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Rise of sex for basic needs in Busia's victims camps

FEATURES
 Women drying Omena at Malomba  floods camp ,Bunyala South at Budalangi on April 25, 2024. [Benjamin Sakwa/ Standard]

As the floodwaters spread, leaving behind a trail of devastation, many victims of the floods in Budalang’i constituency, Busia county, have found themselves seeking refuge in overcrowded shelters.

With homes reduced to rubble and their belongings swept away by the deluge, many are desperate for any semblance of stability. They are grappling for food and shelter amid the heavy downpour.

As floods continue to wreak havoc as a result of the continuous heavy rains with flood victims, especially women seeking refuge at safer and higher places to put up makeshift camps and food for survival, many are finding themselves between a rock and hard place.

It is a choice between dying from hunger and selling one's body and souls for food and shelter.

The latter seems to winning for many a woman.

As women continue to do their chores outside the makeshift camps others look in despair wondering when the situation will come to normalcy, for some the camps have become their new home.

With over 1,000 people having been displaced by the perennial floods in the area and living in at least 60 camps spread across the Bunyala area, The Nairobian has established that trading sex for shelter and food is rife at the Budalang'i camps. Worse, it is mostly unprotected sex.

The Nairobian established that for land owners to give the affected women a safer place unaffected by floods to put up temporary camps, they must sleep with them.

They have taken advantage of a natural disaster to feast on vulnerable women who will do anything not to continue camping in the cold and darkness.

Furthermore, the flood victims are also asked for sex in exchange for food and other amenities and this is done in top secret so as not to break people’s marriages, especially for the wives whose husbands have no job or money to buy food.

Flood victims who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being chased away from the camp said the new development, which has become a norm, is because the county and national governments have neglected them. The two governments are not providing any specific place or evacuation centre to stay and only giving inadequate relief food, which is full of corruption when it comes for distribution.

“I was displaced by floods three weeks ago and I was desperate to get safer places to stay, which I got but I was told to choose between my survival and my dignity. I rejected the demand for my body and lost the safe land. Fortunately enough, I got help from another land owner who did not demand for sex to give me a place to set up a tent. Many of my colleagues are engaging in sex not because they love but because they need to protect their children,” said a displaced person who sought anonymity.

Most of the flood victims acknowledged that sex for food and shelter is a common trend in the camps, but under top secret basis.

 “These camps have turned into commercial sex hubs. We have many people who are displaced by floods but we have few safer places in this area where all the affected people have run to just to secure a small place to put up a temporary camp. For one to find a place to erect a makeshift camp, there are certain conditions one has to meet. Or  else, you are forced to move to Busia town to rent a house, which is extremely expensive and yet many have no money,” said one of the flood victims.

“The most affected people are the women. For them to get where to stay, they have to offer sex to those who have the privilege of having safer and higher places where floods have not destroyed and, shockingly enough, 90 per cent of women have agreed with the proposal because they have no other option," she added.

Another flood victim told the Nairobian that another factor that is aiding the sex trade is lack of food, stating that the food and non-food material distributed by the Red Cross Society and the two levels of government is not enough.

“In any crisis or war, food is the most important item for the survival of a man. When floods knocked, people’s crops were destroyed and many left their homes with nothing. Upon reaching these camps, some got places to sleep. Many, however, have no food. But instead of those privileged to have food helping those without, they are using the dire situation as an opportunity to trade it for sex. Many women have children and they are desperate for food,” said another flood victim.

Many are worried that unprotected sex in the camps will lead to a health disaster in which many people will suffer from sexually transmitted diseases.

“Life in these camps is intolerable. There is no privacy. People are having sex without protection. By the time things come to normalcy, we shall have many people suffering from sexually transmitted diseases due to unprotected sex,” said Ibrahim Anyande, a flood victim.

 “We are living with young children of the opposite sex in one camp. You cannot excuse yourself because there is no toilet or bathroom for that reason, people are relieving themselves in the same water they have to drink and use for domestic chores and this puts many families at risk of contaminating diseases,” Anyande said.

Budalang’i flood victims Chairman Godfrey Khamala said those privileged to own safer places that have not been affected by floods have been taking advantage of the dire situation to trade their places and food for sex.

“We have had this issue for a long time because a woman comes with her children displaced by floods. They have no food, and someone offers her a place to put up a camp or a tent in exchange for sex. Many of them have agreed with the demand, and that is what is happening,” said Khamala.

“The problem is that these are mature and adult people. When these acts happen, no one talks about it, save for husbands who found out that their wives are cheating on them. When you ask, they tell you it is false and it is none of your business. But we are concerned because there are also cases of defilement,” Khamala lamented.

The victims leader, however, said the biggest threat is the high cases of sexually transmitted diseases. He said they are engaging the Ministry of Health to supply condoms in the camps.

“The Ministry of Health used to supply two boxes of condoms in every camp in 2019 and 2020 but they stopped. With what is going on, we are engaging the ministry to immediately start supplying the protective gear to our camps,” he said.

Khamala added that people used to fear collecting condoms with many stating that it would ruin their marriages.

“There are some married men and women who come for the protective gear but they fear the chairman might tell their spouses and such worries led many to stop coming for the condoms. I wouldn't do that as it is none of my business,” said Khamala.

He said some of the flood victims who have money and they have refused to trade sex with food have gone to town for rental houses.

“We have many people grappling for safe areas to put up their tents and we have a few who have money and have refused to engage in sex affairs. They decided to go to Busia town to rent houses although it is very expensive,” he said.

The flood victims chairman accused the Kenya Red Cross of engaging in corruption when distributing relief food.

“I have received a lot of complaints from my people over unfair distribution of food. The Red Cross staff have registered people who are not flood victims and the relief food and non-food materials have been landing in the wrong hands. I have raised this issue with them but so far there is no progress and that is what is forcing many victims to exchange sex for food,” said Khamala.

He, however, blamed the two levels of government for abandoning the flood victims.

“We have no toilets, bathrooms, clean and safe drinking water, beddings, medical care, mosquito nets, and a rescue centre where people can stay, we are asking the government to set aside one major centre where it is easy to monitor our people and serve them. We have been proposing to the government to allow flood victims to use the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology satellite campus which was closed some time back as a main centre. Still, politics has taken centre stage,” said Khamala.

Western Region Commissioner Irungu Macharia, when contacted, said that the government is focusing more on helping the displaced people with shelter, food, and non-food items rather than engaging in sex transaction sideshows.

“The issue of sex does not concern me or the government. That is their issue as adults. What is concerning me more is how we are coordinating with various stakeholders on mobilising relief food and non-food items, providing shelter for our people, and ensuring there is safe and clean water for our people. That is what we have been doing as a government,” said Macharia.

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