Natural disasters in Kenya: past and future risks

Kenya has become a very popular tourist destination in recent years. Every year the number of people who come to the country to go on safari and relax on the beaches, to learn about the culture and customs of the natives, and to admire the beautiful nature is increasing. They should find out in advance what natural calamities or disasters they may encounter. Disaster always comes unexpectedly, but knowing its potential can help you prepare for it.

Climatic Features of Kenya

Kenya is an East African country that lies right on the equator. However, the country’s topography and location change the climate of Kenya. Instead of the usual equatorial climate, most of the country has a tropical climate and only in some places a sub-equatorial climate.

The tropical climate is characterised by two seasons – rainy and dry. Kenya has a dry season for most of the year when rainfall is low. In the north-western parts of the country, rainfall is so low that drought is commonplace.

Along the Indian Ocean coast, rainfall peaks in the spring, with March and April considered the rainiest months. This often causes severe flooding.

The coastline of Kenya is not very long, about 600 kilometres, besides there is a protective wall of coral reefs along it. Therefore, ocean storms, cyclones and possible tsunamis do not cause much damage to the country.

A large rift fault runs through the central part of the country. This is a tectonically active zone where the earth’s crust continues to move. In the distant future, this rift will split Africa into two parts, but this process is long. Therefore, there is no great tectonic activity here, and almost all volcanoes on the rift boundaries are considered dormant.

Kenya has quite a lot of forests and savannahs overgrown with grass. Therefore, the problem of forest fires in the dry season is a topical issue for it.

Potentially dangerous factors that can cause a natural disaster include:

  • Seismic activity. The Great African Rift is currently not tectonically active, although it increases by several millimetres annually. Therefore, the risk of an earthquake here is present, but not very high.
  • Long coastline. Even being protected by shallow waters and coral reefs, it remains a source of increased danger in terms of storms, cyclones, tsunamis.
  • Volcanism. Currently, Kenya’s volcanoes do not erupt and are considered dormant, but this may change with increased tectonic activity.
  • Seasonal hurricanes and storms. Almost never touch the coast of Kenya and cause no real damage.
  • Heavy rains. Can cause short-term flooding and overflow of numerous rivers.
  • High mountains and plateaus. Increase the likelihood of landslides and rockfalls, threatening transport links and settlements.
  • High forest cover and long savannahs. There is the potential for forest fires to occur and spread.

The importance of studying the history of natural disasters

The history of natural disasters is important information to learn before travelling to your chosen country. Knowing the potential dangers that may be awaiting you will not only help you choose the right place, but also the time and season of the year when the threat of being in the epicentre of a natural disaster will be minimal.

For example, knowing that the rainy season, when floods most often occur, begins in late February and lasts until early May, you can choose a different time to travel to Kenya.

From this article, you will learn the chronology of natural disasters that have occurred on the island in the past.

Earthquakes and tsunamis

Гигантская трещина в Кении

In 2018, the world community was disturbed by the news of a giant crack in Kenya. It appeared for no apparent reason between the cities of Nairobi and Narok, and was the result of the activation of tectonic processes in the rift zone. This is an alarming sign that may portend further intensification of seismic activity and a series of major earthquakes.

So far, Kenya remains a rather calm country in terms of seismic activity. Underground tremors are recorded here, but most of them remain unnoticed by the population. For example, this is what happened with the earthquake in early August 2023. The tremors with a magnitude of up to 5 points had an epicentre in neighbouring Tanzania. Kenyans did not feel them.

January 1928

The strongest earthquake in the history of Kenya occurred on 6 January 1928, when the country was still a British colony. The magnitude of the tremors was 7 points. Three days later, an aftershock followed, whose magnitude was 6 points. The epicentres of the earthquakes were in Baringo District, in the north-west of the country. There were no reports of casualties, which is not surprising as the area is sparsely populated.

22 January 2012

This is a typical for Kenya earthquake, which occurred in the vicinity of Lake Rudolph, also in the north-west of the country. The magnitude of the tremors was small, – 5.2 points. The depth of the epicentre was quite close – 15 kilometres. But there were no destructions and moreover victims.

Tsunami 26 December 2004

The consequences of the catastrophic earthquake in the Indian Ocean in the last days of 2004 were felt by many countries. Even territories as far from the epicentre as Somalia and Madagascar suffered. But Kenya was successfully protected by coral reefs and there was no destruction on its shores. Only one person died in the tsunami.

Volcanic eruptions

Спящий вулкан Баррьер

There have been no eruptions in Kenya in the last hundred years, but everything we said about earthquakes above holds true for volcanism. At least two dozen dormant and inactive volcanoes now exist in Kenya. Some of them have only recently been active, others erupted many thousands of years ago.

Barriere Volcano

This volcano is located at the southern end of Lake Turkana, which lies in the zone of the most intense volcanic activity in Kenya. There are several other volcanoes around Barriere and all of them can be active. Barriere itself last erupted in 1921. The volcano’s cone is 1,032 metres high.


This volcano lies in the rift zone, south of Barriere volcano. Its height is 1,285 metres. The volcano currently shows constant fumarolic activity, and its last eruption was in 1910.

Storms and hurricanes

Kenya lies north of the Indian Ocean tropical cyclone distribution basin. Cyclones curve southwards from the equator and hit Madagascar and neighbouring countries without affecting Kenya. Therefore, devastating hurricanes or severe storms are virtually non-existent here. In the last 50 years, there have been no reports of damage and casualties resulting from such storms.


Затопленный Найроби

Floods are a regular seasonal disaster in eastern Kenya. They peak in March and April when heavy rains flood the country, but they are not uncommon in autumn. The most devastating floods are those that replace severe drought. Below we have listed the worst floods of recent years.

April-May 2018

Record rainfall hit Kenya, causing numerous floods and associated landslides. On 9 May, high water inflows caused the Petel Dam to collapse, while 4 more dams on Lake Baringo were affected later in the month. Water flows washed away houses and destroyed roads. The total death toll exceeded 180 people and damage was estimated at $200 million.

November 2019

Heavy downpours hit West Pokot County, which lies in northern Kenya. Thousands of people were rendered homeless, torrents of mud and water washed away roads and destroyed entire settlements. More than a million people required assistance.

April 2020

Наводнение 2020 года

Large-scale flooding affected 29 districts across the country. Rivers overflowed their banks, landslides destroyed houses and roads. About 100,000 people had to be evacuated and another 800,000 were affected. 160,000 households were destroyed or damaged. 237 people died.

March-April 2023

Once again, the heaviest downpours paralysed life in the country. This time the number of affected people exceeded 36 thousand, many had to be evacuated to safe places. The strongest element raged in the north-east of the country. Sixteen people died there.

Drought and fires

Засуха в Кении

Drought, and its associated wildfires, is the country’s second disaster after floods. During the dry season, any ignition is enough to start a fire.

March 2009

A severe fire engulfed Longonot National Park, which is located in the crater of an extinct volcano of the same name. The fire threatened the unique ecosystem of monkeys, rabbits, snakes and mongooses that had taken root there. For the most part, the animals were not even killed by the fire, but by the smoke that covered the crater.

February 2019

Пожар в национальном парке в Кении

A fire engulfed the slopes of Kenya, the highest mountain in the country. Hundreds of hectares of heathland were burning. The fire could be seen even from satellites. Strong winds prevented the fire from being tackled, and only March showers helped to extinguish it.

February 2022

About 600 hectares of forest were on fire in Aberdare National Park, which lies 100 kilometres north of Nairobi. The black rhino population living in the park was badly threatened, but no people were hurt. The same park has gone up in flames many times before. Similar fires happened in 2017 and 2018 and earlier.


The biggest threat to tourists holidaying in Kenya is the spring maximum rainfall and the floods associated with its onset. Every year, people die in torrents of water, and often mud, and since floods occur more often on the coast, tourists have to be careful.

The earthquake threat is still small, but potentially possible. Activation of seismic activity can happen at any moment, and scientists do not risk giving any forecasts. The threat of volcanic eruption is also low.

Tropical cyclones avoid Kenya, although hurricanes do happen. But the coast is well protected from storms by numerous coral reefs.

In the dry season, forest fires occur, but they damage only unique ecosystems, plants and animals.

The best time to travel to Kenya is from May to January. This is the period when rainfall remains at an acceptable level without causing severe flooding. The ocean coast is always warm, and in winter and summer the winds are strong enough to allow for active holidays.

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