Counties can end flood cycle that haunts us yearly

A resident of Sunlight Mwandoni in Mombasa County wade through flooded pathways to access their flooded houses. [Robert Menza, Standard]

Heavy rains are wreaking havoc in Kenya, only months after the devastation caused by drought.

Early this year, drought in East Africa was rated the worst in over four decades. As of December 2022, more than 36.5 million people had been affected by severe drought, with more than 20 million facing acute food insecurity. The onset of rains in March brought a sigh of relief to many, but these rains are now causing havoc.

In Northern Kenya, close to 500 houses have been destroyed by floods and 12 people have died so far. As of late March, over 36,000 people were affected by floods in 19 counties, with massive destruction of roads, infrastructure and crops being reported. Livestock that survived the ravaging droughts have been swept by the flood, and about 4000 livestock is estimated to have died.

The irony in the climate change conversation is why, in some parts of a country people are dying of drought while in the adjacent areas, residents are dying from the effects of floods. The biggest irony, however, is that the country never appears to be prepared for tragedies. When there is drought, there are never adequate water reserves, and drainage systems are readily overwhelmed when it floods.

The surge in the construction of sand dams in dryland ecosystems is proving to be the most cost-effective technology in harvesting water. Basically, a sand dam is a reinforced concrete wall built across a seasonal riverbed to collect water that would otherwise be considered as run off during heavy downpours. One dam can supply close to 1000 people within a community with constant supply of filtered water even during the dry areas.

Sand dams are essential in filtering the harvested water and protecting it from contamination. Unlike ordinary dams, a sand dam would take about two weeks to construct. Such a dam can serve close 200,000 households in a given community. Generally Sand dams can last close to 100 years without requiring major renovations and refurbishments.

In Kenya, sand dams are becoming rampant, especially in the drought prone areas in counties like Makueni, Kitui and Machakos where 130 dams are built every year. Globally countries like Brazil, Angola and India are also picking up on this trend. County government have an important role to play when it comes to enforcing the construction of these dams. In counties like Moyale, where heavy downpours have even rendered roads impassable, water that would otherwise have been collected and used in future has gone to waste.

It is upon the MCAs, Senators, and Governors of specific counties to put both feet in the mud and collaborate with community members to change the narrative and break the drought - flood cycle that haunts Kenya yearly.

Mr Muthiani is a Corporate Communications and Public Relations Practitioner, Edelman Kenya