It is a chilly afternoon at a camp set up following the catastrophic landslides that rocked West Pokot two weeks ago.
Chebokamoi Loiwena is in deep thought, still reeling in grief from the loss of her three children. She has no place to bury them because her home and farm were swept away by the deadly deluge that killed more than 40 people.
She says she will never return to Parua village, where she narrowly survived the mudslides that killed her children.
At Nyarkulian Primary School where a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) tent has been her home since the tragedy happened, Ms Loiwena is staring at an uncertain future.
She is desperate, her tribulations confounded by lack of information on where she will relocate to after the land she has lived on for more than 25 years was ravaged by the mudslides.
First, she says there is nowhere to bury her three sons – twins who were in Class Seven and their younger brother.
In Sondany Location alone, authorities said 12 people died and 11 others were seriously injured.
West Pokot County reported that 52 people died, but the State maintains that 43 people perished.
Last Thursday, at least 150 locals displaced by the mud and landslides and who have braved the extremely cold weather in the camp vowed never to go back to the area hit by the disaster. They called for relocation of the camp to an area with habitable weather conditions, saying they want to avoid other incidents in future.
For Loiwena and other women with young children, the conditions at the camp are unbearable.
“I don’t know how the bodies of my three sons will reach home because all roads leading to the home are impassable after the mudslides, and even when their bodies reach home, there is no land to bury them. The soils were washed away,” a seemingly frustrated Loiwena says.
She says the house she lived in before the calamity struck was located in a warmer area in the lowlands, making it difficult for her to adapt to the weather at the camp.
“The State has given us some food, a blanket and a mattress but the environment is too chilly for me. I am urging the government to relocate the camp to a warmer area. The cold here is unbearable,” says Loiwena.
According to West Pokot director of meteorological services Wilson Lonyangole, temperatures in Nyarkulian where the evacuation camp is located fall to as low as four degrees celsius. The camp is about 3,000 metres above sea level.
At least ten women were crowding in the same tent Loiwena was in.
Rose Jeruto, tightly-holding her nine-month-old baby to her chest, says the child has been crying incessantly for the last one week due to what she suspects is the cold temperatures.
She says she will not move back to her home for fear of being swept away during another rainy season.
Ms Jeruto also says she has nowhere to move to and when schools reopen next month she will still be at the camp. She is oblivious of the government’s plan to return her to the same house that she has vowed never to return to before Christmas.
“We had some food in our stores but they were destroyed by the mudslides. I plead with the government to resettle us elsewhere because we wish to start our lives again. There is no going back to the landslide-prone area again,” Jeruto, who was lucky not to lose any member of her family on the fateful night two weeks ago, says.
Caroline Petro, another survivor, says returning to her house rekindles memories of the night tragedy occasioned by Mother Nature.
Ms Petro has a seven-month-old child who she says has been coughing following a fever she caught at the camp.
“There are medicines in the camp for the children, but cases of fever have been on the rise and the rains are yet to subside,” she says.
Petro adds: “We have no land to return to and we urge the State to hasten the resettlement process.”
Michael Chepkau, a nurse at the nearby Sondany dispensary, says the medicines delivered by the county government of West Pokot and humanitarian agencies are almost running out.
Mr Chepkau says several cases of pneumonia, typhoid and malaria have been reported in the last 10 days.
“We are calling for more specialists to help us treat emergency cases. We also need additional drugs,” the health worker says.
Chairman of the camp Joseph Ng’esarich says the 150 people at Nyarkulian Primary School were sleeping in the camp while hundreds of other locals were being housed by relatives in safer areas.
Mr Ng’esarich says there is no electricity in the school where the camp is located, making it difficult to manage it at night.
“There is need for more blankets and mattresses because the temperatures are very low,” he says.
Sondany Location Chief Joel Plaal says at least 200 cows and 300 merino sheep were buried by the landslide.
Mr Plaal says mudslides are still happening in the areas where locals were displaced.
“We are still experiencing mudslides and landslides in the area but we have not lost anyone because residents heeded calls to move out,” he says.
West Pokot County Commissioner Apollo Okello, however, said all three camps of Nyarkulian, Paroo and Parua primary schools will be closed before Christmas.
The county commissioner said displaced residents will be given building materials and returned to their homes ahead of schools reopening in January.
Mr Okello says a requiem mass for the 43 victims will be conducted in Kapenguria tomorrow. The government will offer Sh50,000 to cater for the burial of each of the dead residents.
“Starting Saturday next week, all displaced families will be given building materials and devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa will oversee the exercise,” he says.
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