ShelterBox Team in Kenya Following Severe Floods

‘Access to affected communities is challenging’ – ShelterBox team in Kenya to assess shelter needs after major flooding and a burst dam

Flooding in Kenya has so far claimed 170 lives. Last week a dam in the Rift Valley burst unleashing reservoir waters that careered into two villages killing more than 50 people. ShelterBox is now in Kenya to see if it can help, as an estimated 300,000 people have now been forced from their homes.

Across Kenya heavy rain and landslides have caused over a quarter of a million people to leave their homes. Some in remote communities needed rescuing by helicopter.

A dam burst on a commercial flower farm in Kenya’s Rift Valley has killed more than 50 people in two villages, half of them children. The reservoir, situated on top of a hill 120 miles from Nairobi, gave way a week ago today as nearby residents were sitting down to their evening meals. The deluge swept away powerlines, homes and buildings, including a primary school. The search through mud for bodies is still continuing.

International disaster relief agency ShelterBox is expert in providing emergency shelter for displaced communities, and can supply essential items such as solar lighting where power is down, tools and tarpaulins for rebuilding, and water filtration where there are fears of water-borne disease.

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Rachel Harvey is currently in Nairobi, and says, ‘The rains this year have been heavy and protracted. The cumulative impact on roads and other infrastructure has been severe which makes access to affected communities challenging. Even when the flood waters recede the damage will take time to repair.’   

Two ShelterBox response volunteers flew out to Kenya yesterday to talk to government agencies and the aid community to see whether there is a role for ShelterBox in this ongoing disaster response. Operations Coordinator Jo Arponen says, ‘Initially it seemed the local authorities and the Kenyan Red Cross had enough resources to manage the flooding situation. But now we are hearing that stocks of high quality shelter materials are running low. So our team will be working out what is needed where and how long it might take to get ShelterBox aid into the country. We need to make sure that any aid we send is appropriate and timely.’

ShelterBox has responded in Kenya several times over the years, including in 2010 to flooding in the Turkana region, to widespread drought in 2011/12 when 7,000 tents were supplied, and to help families fleeing conflict in neighbouring countries in 2006 and post-election violence in 2008.

Natural Disasters Explained: Floods

Colombia. May 2011. Heavy rains forced riverbanks to burst resulting in vast flooding across Colombia in 2011 (ShelterBox).

Colombia. May 2011. Heavy rains forced riverbanks to burst resulting in vast flooding across Colombia in 2011 (ShelterBox).


ShelterBox provides emergency shelter and vital supplies to support communities around the world overwhelmed by disaster and humanitarian crises. In the second of a series of features looking at the different types of natural disasters to which we respond, we consider the causes and impact of flooding. 

ShelterBox has dispatched teams and emergency equipment to disaster zones on 36 occasions since the beginning of 2013. Almost half of those deployments, to 14 different countries across Europe, Africa, South America, Asia and Australasia, were in response to floods. If that’s surprising, it shouldn’t be; according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, flooding is the most common global environmental hazard.

The dictionary definition of flooding is “An overflowing of water on an area that is normally dry.” So far, so obvious, but there’s more to it than that. The main distinction to be made is between flooding caused by excessive rainfall and storm surges originating from the oceans, triggered by hurricanes or typhoons. We’ll leave storm surges for another day and concentrate here on the impact of abnormally heavy rain.

Excessive rainfall, beyond the capacity of rivers to carry the water away safely, is the most common source of flooding. This can lead to river banks giving way, or the collapse of man-made structures such as embankments and dams. Often the result is a flash flood, which is particularly dangerous because of the speed with which an area can become inundated.

Some floods are caused by random periods of abnormally heavy rain. Recent examples which have called for ShelterBox deployments include the mid-2014 Balkan floods, caused by the heaviest rainfall for 120 years in Serbia and Bosnia. The pattern was repeated soon afterwards in South America, across Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. In all cases, the result was death and injury, destruction of property and the displacement of tens of thousands of people.

Flooding can also be triggered by meteorological phenomena that recur regularly. The best known example is the monsoon – a seasonal weather pattern that brings heavy rain. The Indian Sub-continent’s southwest monsoon, which occurs annually between June and September, is perhaps the most important in terms of its potentially damaging side-effects. ShelterBox is currently distributing tents and other equipment in Nepal following floods and landslides caused by unusually heavy monsoon rains. Pakistan and India have also been affected.


Colombia. May 2011. Heavy rains forced riverbanks to burst resulting in vast flooding across Colombia in 2011 (ShelterBox).

Colombia. May 2011. Heavy rains forced riverbanks to burst resulting in vast flooding across Colombia in 2011 (ShelterBox).


The impact of flooding on communities is widespread. In human terms, death and injury is caused both by the water itself and also by objects swept up in it. In terms of residential property, flooding can cause structural damage, undermining foundations and rendering homes unstable and unusable. Even where the house remains intact, the lengthy clean-up and repair process means the family has to find alternative accommodation until their home is habitable again. And floods also damage public buildings such as schools and hospitals, infrastructure like roads and bridges as well as crops. This all has a large impact on the economic life of the affected population.

Health and sanitation problems are another key issue. Water supplies are often contaminated as flood water and sewage overflow into drinking water supplies. And large areas of standing water are a haven for mosquitoes, creating a risk of malaria and dengue fever.

ShelterBox’s response to flood related disasters takes account of all these issues. Families who are temporarily displaced will return to their homes once the flood water has receded, but they need somewhere to live while they rebuild their houses. That’s where a ShelterBox tent comes in, allowing them to stay close by during the reconstruction process. We also supply water purification kits to address the problem of contaminated drinking water, while our mosquito nets can help to reduce the malaria risk.

The one thing ShelterBox can’t do is prevent future floods. The rising global population means that humans will increasingly find themselves living in areas with a high risk of inundation, and freak weather events will continue to happen.