The rains are here and even as numerous Kenyans look forward to renewed farming, residents of Budalang’i Constituency in Busia are afraid the ugly ghost of floods may rear its head again.
Years back, whenever River Nzoia burst its banks, Steve Wandera and his family would be forced to relocate to higher grounds.
His crops and livestock would be swept away by flash floods while the family would be forced to take refuge at Budalang’i High School or in church compounds for several months until water subsided.
For over five years now, the floods menace had become a thing of the past in the area thanks to joint efforts between the World Bank and national government to erect dykes along the river banks.
For instance, in 2008 floods wreaked havoc across Budalang’i, which led to displacement of more than 7,000 families. Non-governmental organisations and other government agencies trooped to Budalang’i to offer help to families that had been affected. But heavy rains pounding the area have rekindled bitter old memories among locals who now live in fear that floods could return to haunt them.
It follows disturbing reports that some people have been vandalising the multi-billion dykes by excavating soil from a section of the barriers to create way for trucks that carry harvested sand from river Nzoia for sale.
Residents, particularly those living at Ihula, Mudembi, Mumbira, Makhoma and Galalani, are worried that should rains persist, they would be marooned and left homeless.
Damaged and weakened
“A section of the dykes that were made to resist raging waters have been damaged and weakened by water and people who have been scooping soil to create a path for lorries ferrying sand to sell,” said Petro Egokhe.
The century-old man said his efforts to protect the dykes have been opposed by sand harvesters.
“We are living in a time bomb; openings being created may allow water to flow outside the river and that will mark return of floods in Budalang’i,” said Egokhe.
Bunyala Sub-County Deputy County Commissioner Titus Kilonzi said sand harvesting is not illegal but warned against damaging the dykes. “We shall not allow a few individuals to put people’s lives at risk; those found damaging the dykes will face the law,” said Kilonzi.
Now locals want the dykes rehabilitated. “More soil should be added to reinforce the dykes since some of them are too low, making it easy for water to overflow,” said Godfrey Oundo from Ihula village.
In December last year, Dan Adino from the National Irrigation Board (NIB) said the institution (in conjunction with the World Bank) would construct permanent dykes starting February this year, but work is yet to begin.
Locals have had to rely on Bulala FM, a local vernacular radio station based in Bunyala, for warnings against possible floods.
Steven Bwire said the move by the government to put up dykes in the flood-prone constituency has enabled them cultivate crops once more, even as he took issue with Rwambwa Rice Irrigation Scheme, which has allowed water to flow into nearby homes. “We are able to plant crops on the banks of River Nzoia unlike before when crops would be washed away when the river burst its banks.
Water from the rice plantation should flow back to River Nzoia,” said Bwire.
County Director of Meteorological Department Benjamin Bahati said there is no cause for alarm since River Nzoia only bursts its banks when there is excess rainfall. He maintained that Busia is yet to receive excess rainfall.
Water that causes floods in Budalang’i comes from Trans Nzoia, Bungoma and Kakamega regions, where River Nzoia has many tributaries.
“The soil is yet to get soaked, we always purpose to give alerts to those living in lowlands in case there is looming floods,” said Bahati.
County Director of Communication Winston Wafula said the county government has not set aside money for rehabilitation of the dykes even though the Department of Disaster was prepared for any eventuality.
“The county government has not received cash from the Treasury so it will be hard to rehabilitate the dykes,” he said.