Government failed to act despite early El Nino warning

163 households in Kabuto and Nyora Villages in Nyatike Sub-county have been displaced by floods. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

It’s heart-wrenching that Kenyans in various regions are still losing lives and property to floods and landslides during this El Niño rainfall season.

What makes this more painful is that the Kenya Meteorological Department issued a warning at the end of August about the heightened rainfall expected between October and December 2023.

David Gikungu, the Director General of the department, laid it bare with brutal clarity, projecting floods, loss of life and livestock, crop destruction and the displacement of people, among the impending catastrophes.

His alarm bells specifically rang out for the usually arid North Eastern counties of Mandera, Marsabit, Wajir, Garissa, and Isiolo, marking them as high-risk and particularly vulnerable areas.

Fast forward to the present. It’s nothing short of absurd that barely three months later, our counties are running around like headless chickens as the skies open up precisely as predicted.

As you read this, residents of Mandera, Garissa, and some other counties are displaced and have lost their means of livelihood due to the relentless rains.

It is a bewildering spectacle to witness area leaders appealing for help as if they were taken by surprise by the impending deluge.

It is a scene eerily reminiscent of 1997 when El Niño rains claimed the lives of about 2,000 Kenyans and destroyed millions of shillings worth of property despite a four-month advance warning from the meteorological department.

Potential risks

One might reasonably have expected, even hoped, that with the introduction of the county system of government, our level of preparedness would have matured significantly.

Unfortunately, it appears we are still fumbling in the dark, unsure of what to do. As a nation, we can no longer afford to downplay the potential risks this time.

Both levels of government must launch comprehensive flood awareness campaigns to bolster community preparedness and education.

Counties should collaborate with the national government to ensure that every Kenyan is informed about the rains and so as to prepare adequately.

Ignorance should no longer serve as an excuse. Moreover, it is imperative for the country to prioritise the establishment of flood-resistant infrastructure for the long term, capable of withstanding the heavy rainfall in flood-prone areas during El Niño seasons.

Additionally, there should be a strong focus on reforestation and afforestation, particularly in regions where people reside on cliffs and hills to mitigate the risk of landslides.

The time for heedless ignorance is over. Let’s face the reality of our vulnerability and act with urgency and foresight. The ongoing rains are not a surprise, and neither should our response be.

It is high time we heed the warnings, for the cost of neglect is far too steep to bear.

Ms Falhada is a member of the East African Legislative Assembly and former Nominated Senator