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Nowhere to hide from Victoria's angry water

By Washington Onyango and Kepher Otieno | May 20th 2020 | 3 min read

A flooded home at Songorota village in Nyakach, Kisumu County. More than 300 families have been displaced by floods. Inset: Pamela Awuor wades through flood waters with her baby and bucket. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Wading through the murky waters, Pamela Awuor struggles to balance her shivering six-month-old baby on her left arm and a heavy bucket on her right.

She picks her way slowly through the water, tentatively putting each foot forward to feel the ground before taking the next step.

One little mistake and she will be groping for her baby in the muddy waters. She must also not let go of the bucket as it contains a few valuable items salvaged from a flooded classroom the previous night.

This is the second time Awuor is on the move after her mud walled hut crumbled under the onslaught of Lake Victoria's rising waters more than three weeks ago.

Awuor was first evacuated from her hut in Kabonyo Kanyagwul village in Nyando after being marooned for hours in the darkness.

She and hundreds of other families then moved to nearby schools, leaving behind submerged homes brimming with dirty water, clogged toilets and snakes.

But the lake has followed the evacuees to their new hideout.

At Kibarwa Primary School, the evacuees again found themselves stranded with nowhere to go after the lake's waters invaded the classrooms where they had sought safety.

With her new refuge under attack from the lake, Awuor was on the move again, wading through the murky waters to the next camp.

“Just when we thought we had found a safe place, the waters have again forced us to move," she says.

After moving three times now, she says she is tired of wading through the waters in search of a new destination.

“I don’t know where to go anymore. All I can do is walk around the village to find somewhere safe for me and my children until the waters go back to the lake,” she says.

Life in the camps, she said, is no longer tenable, even as scores of philanthropists troop in to donate food and other items.

“What is the purpose of food when there is no place to cook it, eat, sleep and use the latrines,” she asks.

“We cannot live in our homes, and now we cannot live in the camps. The government should help us. It should help move us to higher grounds and shelters where our children can be safe," Awuor says.

A number of women fleeing the lake have had to endure birth pains inside the sodden camps.

Last week, Irene Akinyi, 26, was helped by fellow women to deliver her baby inside a wet classroom at Kibarwa Primary School in Nyando.

The baby was delivered in the darkness on an old sack spread on the soaked classroom floor.

“There was nothing we could do. We had no beds or blankets," Bartholomew Ogutu, the security guard at the camp said.

The situation is the same at Sango Rota, Nyakach constituency, where local schools and churches are overflowing with fleeing villagers, but watching with growing fear as the waters follow them.

At Nanga Secondary School in Kisumu Central, the evacuees listed congestion, poor sanitation, and inadequate supply of food, drugs, mosquito nets, bedding and clothes as their main concerns.

It gets worse with a raging coronavirus pandemic in the country. Inside these camps, social distancing is unheard of.

“I have no way of protecting my children. We do not have enough masks, space and clean running water,” says Lilian Akinyi.

Her house was swallowed up by the lake's waters three weeks ago.

Every night, the lake's waters stalk their prey to the camps, making sleeping on the cold classroom floors a nightmare.

“I can’t sleep at night. All I have is a sack which I spread on the cold classroom floor," says Saidi Achieng, 66.

According to Governor Anyang' Nyong'o, this year's flooding has been the worst since 1963.

The county, he said, is seeking more long lasting solutions for what he described as a humanitarian disaster.

The solutions on the table include building dykes to keep River Nyando within its banks and fast-tracking the completion of Soin-Koru dam to tame the flood waters.

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