Landslide victims fear for worst as dark clouds gather over the valley

Some victims of the 1997 El Nino rains that led to landslides in Elgeyo escarpment. They have expressed fears that the same tragedy could befall them again when the El Nino rains set in. [PHOTO: MICHAEL OLLINGA/STANDARD]

Looking at the distant Elgeyo escarpment, Samuel Kemkem sits perched on a stone at El Nino campsite centre seemingly pondering what the near-future holds.

The announcement by the Meteorological Department that El Nino rains will pound the country beginning early October has had him worried for months. His sad memories of the 1997 El Nino are still fresh as heavy clouds lurk in the horizon.

“In the 1997 El Nino rains, people, livestock and other property were swept down the escarpment by massive landslides,” he recalls. “We are disturbed by the thought of impending heavy rains because we suffered massive loses 18 years ago and the same may recur,” he says.

Forgotten people

Mr Kemkem is among a group of the initial 78 families living at the El Nino campsite centre in Keiyo South sub-county. Currently, more than 500 people call the tiny centre perched on the fringes of Tingwa Hills, home.

The centre got its name after families affected by the 1997 El Nino rains settled there, subsequently renaming it from Kimoron.

“We feel abandoned by the government 18 years after tragedy struck and left us impoverished. With looming rains, we see the same predicament recurring,” he says.

They feel cheated by the government after they were promised resettlement on safer grounds. “We lost our homes after they were declared inhabitable by the government that helped us relocate to the El Nino campsite,” he says.

Jelagat Kibet, another victim of the 1997 rains, says the campsite has been their home since. Their children, she says, have grown not knowing their original homeland.

“When the tragedy struck, government administrators assessed our Kabawa village and advised that we relocate. It is now 18 year and it seems the government forgot about us. We are now sitting here waiting for another tragedy,” she says.

Ms Jelagat says they have been asking the government to honour its pledge but nothing has been done since then. Locals showed The Standard on Saturday letters they had written to the government in a land transfer programme where the latter would take parcels declared unsafe for human habitat in exchange for a safer ground of equal size.

“The recent rains have brought great loss of property and lives due to steep gradient of their land. I have visited their land several times and appreciate their problem,” read the letter in part from then District Commissioner SM Mwadime to Lands and Natural Resources PS.

“They would wish that they be compensated land for land and that the acreage be as what they have surrendered,” the letter continued.

Alfred Koech, another victim, says they are living in abject poverty as the little space they have is too small to cultivate.

Massive landslides

“We live in a forest where any development has to be sanctioned by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS),” said Koech.

The El Nino victims want the government to initiate programmes that will salvage other families living in landslide prone areas.

In 2012, 16 people, among them three children, died in Kocholwo, Simit, Kapsokom, Kaptarkom and Toroplongon areas of the Elgeyo escarpment after heavy rains pounded the region. The tragedy preceded another in Marakwet East where 14 people in Kittony village were killed by massive landslides in 2010. Reports in the area indicate that more than 60 people have been killed due to landslides since the 1997 El Nino rains, with geologists declaring the Elgeyo Escarpment unfit for human settlement.

Already, an intergovernmental disaster management team comprising officials from both the county and national government has been formed in Elgeyo Marakwet and is expected to conduct surveillance, sensitisation campaigns and coordinate any emergencies that may arise from the rains.

Deputy Governor Gabriel Lamaon said Sh13 million has been set aside to facilitate the emergencies.

“We are focused on mitigating the potential harmful effects associated with the rains and we are telling the residents to observe proper storage of the harvested farm produce to avoid contamination,” said Lamaon.