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We have learnt little from adverse weather

By Peter Muiruri | May 5th 2016

Last week, two great ecological stories were reported from two contrasting ends of the earth. The first one came from Venezuela, the South American country just North of Brazil, currently experiencing severe drought.

According to media reports, the prolonged drought is so bad that President Nicolas Maduro announced a two-day work week so as to conserve the little energy due to low water levels in the main dam. Water levels at the country’s Guri Dam, one of the world’s largest hydroelectric facilities, reached a record 793 feet. The drought is the worst in 47 years.

“We are going to have Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays as non-working days for the public sector,” President Maduro said in a televised address.

The other story was in Kenya. Here, the situation was completely different. The whole of last week witnessed a trail of destruction in the wake ongoing torrential rains. Images of flooded streets, people wading through neck-deep waters, collapsing walls and landslides were the order of the day.

The most tragic event, however, was the collapse of a building in Nairobi’s Huruma estate that has left scores of people dead. In both cases, the El-Nino phenomenon was said to be the main cause. El-Nino is a disruption in global weather patterns in the tropics, including Kenya. It results in extreme weather and climatic conditions such as drought, flood, cold and hot spells. Adverse socio-economic impacts include loss of life, destruction to property, water shortage, energy, food and other basic necessities.

The unusual weather pattern has always been with us but lack of preparedness has led to the negative effects such as those witnessed in both Kenya and Venezuela.

As far back as last year, the local meteorological department warned that enhanced rains would continue. According to the department, current projections from global models indicated there was an 80 per cent chance that current El-Nino conditions would extend to the early parts of 2016.

In fact, the deputy director of the Kenya Meteorological Department Peter Ambenje even talked of the advantages of the heavy rains: “The positive side of it is water dams filling up, pasture regenerating, sufficient water for hydro-electric power generation, plenty of rain water to harvest, good performance of crops in various parts such as the southeastern lowlands among others.”

However, as the two experiences show, we have learnt little on how to harness natural resources for our benefit.

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