What Africa can learn from recent Dubai floods

Motorists drive along a flooded street on a rainy day in Dubai on August 5, 2023. [AFP]

The internet has been awash with videos of floods causing havoc in Dubai earlier this week. Many were quick to assume that something went wrong with cloud seeding, the technology used to attract rain in the desert UAE.

Others claim natural rain had clashed with that sourced using the technology that involves planes and other equipment to inject particles into the clouds and make them attract more moisture, which eventually falls like rain.

But all these, and other theories have been trashed and taken back to an unforeseen huge magnitude of rain falling on cities with poor drainage systems. You can excuse the first-world country for the oversight because it never really rains there. The drainage system available has been adequate.

At the end of the day, the excessive floods destroyed property, affected transport, including air, and left vehicles floating in waters in a manner likely to suggest that nature was reclaiming its space, demanding the initial space that was made dry land. Vehicles floated, trees fell, business stores were flooded and life was disrupted, including school attendance. The same floods were experienced in neighbouring Oman, and so far 19 people have been reported killed.

Back home in Kenya, cases of displacement keep recurring, with the government reporting that at least 15,000 families have been displaced. At least 13 fatalities have since been reported. At least five major roads have been destroyed, and now there is a threat of an outbreak of waterborne diseases.

These are your usual stories every time it rains heavily. The usual remedies include moving people to higher ground temporarily until the rains subside. When families are forced into camps, they lose a lot of rights, and freedoms, and a lot of the time to an extent their dignity is snatched.

But how do we reduce this routine? The first possible but difficult thing to do would be to relocate people from flood-prone areas to higher grounds where they are usually taken, then use their former lands for farming. This may sound easier said than done, but there is no harm trying with smaller groups, especially where land is still easily available and can be bought by either the national or county governments for sake of perennially affected flood victims.

However, more drastic moves are unavoidable for Kenya and other African countries to deal with such huge effects of climate change, and prevent the avoidable fatalities. Even with the huge floods in Dubai, fatalities were not in the headlines. Africa is so vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to its limited infrastructure, and high levels of poverty.

The flood victims are mostly in poor rural areas in Nyando, Budalangi, Garissa, Narok and areas around Tana River, where development is not as much. Yet this is necessary to build their resilience to climate-related shocks. Such areas need development involving climate-resilient technologies and practices, such as proper waste water management systems and accurate early warning systems.

And since climate change exacerbates existing health challenges, such as malnutrition, waterborne diseases, and vector-borne diseases like malaria, development initiatives, including access to clean water, healthcare, and education, can improve public health outcomes and build community resilience to climate-related health risks. These same developments have the potential to create economic opportunities, including creating jobs, and reducing poverty.

And this is not just a responsibility of the nations affected. African nations are the worst affected by climate change despite their minimal contribution to the problem. With adequate development, African countries will engage with substantial muscle in international climate negotiations and advocate for their interests on the global stage.

With adequate development in infrastructure, health facilities, and several other sectors, the effects of climate change will be minimal on the people. 

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