Plan to prevent further loss of lives to El Nino

Residents struggle with floods following a downpour at Bamburi in Mombasa County on November 17, 2023. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Few Kenyans were prepared for the El Nino rains. What with the mixed signals from reliable sources, some denying that there would be heavy rains, and others apologising for the wrong forecast! And so, like the days of Noah, when signs of heavy rains dwindled, life continued.

No amount of preparedness would therefore have forestalled the suffering of the people of North-Eastern Kenya. Take Wajir County, for instance. It suffered a prolonged drought prior to the floods, but when it rained, it poured.

Now at least four people, including a KCSE candidate, have been killed. Villages are marooned and thousands displaced. Without roads, it will be difficult to get food and other aid to the affected. Now the Red Cross is opting for airdrops, and seeking KDF help. This will increase the expenditure beyond the Sh10 billion that Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua mentioned during his meeting with stakeholders when he declared 19 counties adversely affected by El Nino.

With water stagnating, mosquito populations multiply. There is risk of cholera and other diseases. Besides, livestock, a main source of livelihood for the majority of pastoralists, are dying in this recurring fate. Wajir suffered these same problems when it rained heavier and earlier than predicted in March.

As was the case then, the excessive run-off water is linked to more from Ethiopian highlands and neighbouring Marsabit. Even then, four lives were reportedly lost.

In a region that still grapples with effects of decades of marginalisation, the floods will impact newly built and preexisting infrastructure; social amenities, energy, and communication facilities, depending on their resilience. Already the urban centres are struggling. It will be more difficult to reach those in rural areas with aid and evacuate the trapped.

But this is no time for ‘sirikali saidia’, as lives are at risk. More challenges abound in Kenya, where the response to climate challenges is mostly reactive. Longer-term solutions are key to minimising the effects of such floods. With proper information and capacity building, communities will play a crucial role in disaster response and resilience.

These have to be part of strong climate-conscious policies and development efforts at county and national levels. At the advent of devolution, counties made policies targeting climate change resilience and mitigation. The hype must continue and more budget allocations made, with reduced recurrent expenses and more development ones.

Development should be a priority in fundraising efforts, as the normal budget allocations for roads and bridges are rarely able to protect communities against such calamities.

Increasing tree cover where possible will reduce the possibility of runoff water’s ability to destroy infrastructure or silt dams, lakes, and rivers. Trees help stabilise soil and reduce the chances of landslides. Nationally, now that the country faces recurring floods, existing nature-based solutions must be exploited. El Nino will come and go, but after presenting us with an opportunity to restore and preserve wetlands, forests, and grasslands. The wetlands, a natural sponge, absorb flood waters and release them slowly, reducing the intensity.

In all these efforts, communities must be properly engaged, from planning to implementation stages, for effectiveness that comes with a sense of ownership and responsibility. More challenges abound in Kenya, where the response to climate challenges is mostly reactive. Already 94,000 households have been displaced. But, however bad things are, we must plan for floods and forestall the ensuing fatalities.

The writer advocates for climate justice. [email protected]