The Standard Group Plc is a multi-media organization with investments in media platforms spanning newspaper print operations, television, radio broadcasting, digital and online services. The Standard Group is recognized as a leading multi-media house in Kenya with a key influence in matters of national and international interest.
  • Standard Group Plc HQ Office,
  • The Standard Group Center,Mombasa Road.
  • P.O Box 30080-00100,Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Telephone number: 0203222111, 0719012111
  • Email: [email protected]

Floods peeling away at the truth

Xn Iraki
 Residents of Nairobi's Mathare slum try to salvage their belongings after flood waters marooned their houses. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

There is water everywhere, the heavens have opened up and, some say, the gods are angry. For others, God is angry.

Some add we have talked about climate change for so long that we thought it was a hoax. The rains have finally come with flood waters peeling off some truths.

Let’s start off with engineers who design their products or services for the worst-case scenario. Think of designing houses in an earthquake-prone country like Taiwan, or volcanic eruptions in Iceland. Ports are designed with high tide and other extremities such as tsunamis in mind.

Why then are our roads flooded? Why are rivers busting their banks?

Let’s accept that coming from a period of subdued rain could have led to laxity. But we knew it would rain, and the weathermen got it right this time. Like termites before long winter, why didn’t we prepare?

There are two explanations; technical and behaviour. We could also add a religious or traditional explanation.

Used to monotonous weather with few extremes, we take things for granted. I hear that our engineers use British or USA standards, very different with harsh winters and hot summers. That apart, we design and do feasibility studies for each road. Don’t we factor in such extremities? Did I hear such rains last fell in 1961?

Let’s make it easier; roads pass through valleys and we know they flood. Why not raise roads higher? Think of James Gichuru road just before joining Ngong Road.

Why is the century-old railway rarely washed away? Neither the SGR. That tells us something about our designs. Remember houses collapsing in Kenya, yet centuries-old houses still stand. Think of the Great Wall of China or Roman roads that are still in use.

It gets more annoying because the places flooding now still flooded when it rained that much last time. A good example is the drift near Kenyatta University. Our behaviours come in, we wish problems away.

Are we not the same Kenyans who put up signs such as ‘slippery floor’ or ‘black spot ahead’? Solve the problem, don’t advertise it! Could religion be a factor, that someone else is in charge? Can we use more science: cause and effect?

With climate change, it was expected that extreme weather would result. Why not revamp the drainages or expand them? Why not build levees or dykes?

In the US, the mighty Mississippi River used to flood downstream around Louisiana near New Orleans. The US Army Corps of Engineers tamed the river with levees. Not boasting, but I have walked on these levees. We know the rivers that flood, why not tame them into total submission? We can even calculate the water speed and its destructive force. High school physics - mass multiplied by acceleration.

The technical part of flooding is easier to sort. Come to the behaviour and political part. How did we end up settling on riparian land? Who allowed that? 

If you check the history of settlement in Nairobi, some places were left unsettled until we thought it was a waste. Now the rivers are returning home. Should we really complain? Was the 30-metre rule not always there?

The same people offering help prepared the ground for disaster by approving settlements on riparian land. Nature is just revenging.

Most Nairobians live in slums, overcrowded and often on riparian land. Think of Mathare Valley or Mukuru Kwa Reuben. What we are seeing through floods is not just a natural disaster but poverty and neglect.

If we allow devolution to work, lots of these voters would go to mashinani, to safer places. We have mystified Nairobi so much that citizens are willing to risk their lives to be there!

The short-term solution is housing the victims in schools and churches. What happens when schools open? That’s why we need stadiums and social halls, they would be very useful under such conditions.

Do we have open space for tents? Every space is built up. Think of Githurai or Mlolongo. Must we suffer to learn?

Nature is furious but we have helped its fury by not keeping rules and regulations. Think of a tsunami with all the buildings next to the ocean shore instead of leaving a 50-metre buffer zone.

We have even forgotten Archimedes Principle, again high school physics. A body immersed in a liquid like water experiences an upward force or buoyancy. That’s why cars become ‘lighter’ and float. Hope you did not sleep through that physics lesson.... I have a few secrets on teaching high school physics.

One hopes that after this rain we shall not return to default mode and wait for the next disaster. We are ordered to subdue the earth, why are we letting it subdue us?

But I have my concerns. Remember how we quickly forgot Covid-19 and its aftermath? How many reading here regularly wash their hands? Shall we learn anything from the floods?

It’s not all gloom, my countrymen. Can we see a silver lining in floods? Dam Nairobi rivers to form small lakes for recreation. Uhuru Park is too lonely. We could be the Venice of East Africa with canals and over 20 million tourists. Imagine taking a boat from CBD to Dandora?

Most golf course are closed. Can we use flooding to identify the best location for water features?

We can be bolder and make River Tana and other local rivers navigable like the Rhine. Garissa would make a great inland port like Basel in Switzerland. We can build dams and lakes. Don’t we have an army corp of engineers?

Let’s see something positive in the floods. Remember Covid-19 accelerated the shift to online working and learning?

Sadly, schools are closed indefinitely. If our children had been given laptops as promised 10 years ago, they would continue learning online. Let’s be futuristic.

We are often helpless against forces of nature but let’s take faith in Genesis 9:11. Condolences to all who lost their loved ones in the floods.

Related Topics


Trending Now


Popular this week