NAIROBI: For some time now, the meteorological department has been warning of impeding El Nino rains that are expected to pound the country in the month of October and could last for a month. In parts of the country, the signs are already evident; rains and gathering clouds. The last El Nino phenomenon to hit the country was experienced in the period 1997/1998. The extent of the damage caused by those torrential rains at that time was gargantuan. Houses, power lines, crops, livestock and roads were swept away. Several deaths were also reported where flood water overwhelmed people.
In an effort to preclude a repeat of the same, Deputy President William Ruto chaired a Cabinet meeting recently whose aim was to come up with a strategy to mitigate the ravages of the expected heavy rains.
At the meeting, it was resolved that Sh5 billion be set aside for exigencies. The Government also put 70,000 National Youth Service members on standby; to be called upon to offer assistance during emergencies as they may arise.
County governments have also been called upon to chip in and enhance their disaster preparedness, but given their financial constraints, they may not be of much help.
The haphazard manner of planning in most urban centres like Nairobi and towns like Narok may render these measures futile for various reasons. Poorly constructed houses are known to come crumbling down during heavy rains. In Nairobi, cases of buildings collapsing have been on the increase lately. The City County Government, and others where extensive damage is likely to occur, must, in the intervening period, ensure dangerous buildings are brought down or evacuated to minimise casualties.
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All structures and buildings on natural waterways and riparian land must be demolished for the simple reason that when water can’t find its level, it will stray into homesteads, with disastrous effects. Noble efforts that were put in place to beautify Nairobi and clear the drainage system at around the time President Obama came to Kenya in July should be stepped up.
For many years, Budalang’i and Nyando plains have borne the brunt of floods because residents not only lose property, livestock and crops, they lose lives as well. There have been attempts to build dykes along the Nzoia and Nyando rivers, which burst their banks and cause destruction in these areas, but they might not be effective against El Niño flooding.
Either the dykes must be reinforced and increased or the county governments in these areas must make arrangements to move families to higher grounds. Similar efforts must be taken in landslide-prone areas of the Rift Valley and Central Kenya.
People don’t always give their own safety priority and it would be a lesser evil to forcibly evacuate them to safety if need arises than count deaths from floods and landslides.
Bad weather has meant poor maize yields in the food basket of the Rift Valley. Should El Niño come and destroy the remaining crop and disrupt farming, are there concrete measures to ensure food security for millions of Kenyan households? We cannot lose sight of the fact that a few months ago, at least 1.6 million Kenyans faced starvation.
The Ministry of Health must also make arrangements to contain possible outbreaks of water-borne diseases, especially cholera, which has assailed parts of the country in the recent past.
In all, preparations for the worst case scenario must be made even as the Government endeavours to sensitise the public on what to expect and how to maintain safety.