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State disaster management system failing Kenyans

By Gathu Kaara
Monday, December 2nd, 2019
Stranded residents of West Pokot county ponder their next move after reaching an impassable section of the road. Photo/PD/JIMMY GITAKA

The day conservationists have been warning about for years is finally here. Nature is out of control, and the weather patterns, as we have known them, are severely disrupted. 

Heavy rains are pounding the entire country, and have been doing so without let or hindrance for weeks now. The effect has been disastrous.

More than 50 people have been confirmed dead as a result of mudslides in West Pokot, which occurred after days of heavy rain. The ongoing rescue efforts have been severely hampered by the rains.

The Tana River has burst its banks, and the consequent flooding has displaced thousands of families, and decimated their livestock. In urban areas, flash floods have turned streets into raging rivers, resulting in widespread destruction of property.

In Nairobi and Mombasa, this has taken place in various locations of the cities, while in Narok, the whole town was turned into a raging river. 

As usual, Kenya continues to be its complacent self. Responses to flooding remain muted yet there have been notable successes from which the government can draw lessons.

The most implacable case of flooding has been experienced in Budalang’i in Western Kenya. For years, without fail, the people of Budalang’i would be pushed out of their homes by flooding, and would require all manner of emergency assistance.

That was the case until the government finally decided to build dykes along the River Nzoia.

As a result of the dykes, the people of Budalang’i now live next to the river without worry. Further, the rains have now been turned into a blessing, because they now record bumper harvest from lands that used to be laid to waste by floods. 

Solutions exist and the government just needs to implement them.

Flash floods have been experienced in towns during the rainy season, but the authorities seem content to be part of the spectators. 

Experts have been asking the government to build dams for ages, yet despite huge plans, none of the dams meant to turn flood-prone areas into the new Budalang’i have been erected.

Most are yet to start, while others whose construction began are either mired in controversy, or have stalled. All that water continues to go to waste when it rains, and those regions experience drought during the rest of the year. Really sad!

Kenya cannot continue down the path of complacency. It is now clear erratic weather patterns are here to stay, and heavy rains and flooding are the new normal.

The first step that needs to be taken is for the government to institute a multi-disciplinary committee to craft a comprehensive and coordinated response to the new weather patterns, before avoidable deaths from rain disasters become normalised, as the country has done with road accidents.

This committee will have four tasks. First is to map out all areas prone to flooding. Its second brief will be to develop a response strategy based on the habitation and economic activities in those areas.

Thirdly, develop a time-bound implementation programme, complete with a budget, for immediate implementation. And lastly, they must be tasked with creation of a new, revamped, efficient, and speedy disaster response system.

An immediate intervention needed to save lives is to move people living in disaster prone areas. It is not enough to “ask” people to move. Where do people who struggle to eke out a living from farms and pastoralism just wake up and move to? 

The government needs to institute an emergency programme to do this—complete with mobilisation of the communities affected, resettlement assistance, and temporary habitations, as permanent solutions are being sought.

As for disaster management, the concerned authorities really need to wake up! The West Pokot response was calamitous. Our disaster management system is one of the country’s disasters. It needs to be done away with forthwith, and only reinstituted anew when fresh thinking has gone into that entire ecosystem. 

In the meantime, the disjointed system can be coordinated by the Interior ministry given its countrywide tentacles through the national administrative structure. [email protected]

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