In the heart of East Africa where the ambitions of progress meet the unforgiving forces of nature, Kenya is grappling with a crisis of monumental proportions – El Niño rains. As the torrential rains continue to pound, the nation finds itself in the grip of a formidable adversary of floodwaters. Since October, relentless rainfall has triggered widespread flooding, transforming serene rivers into raging torrents that spill over their banks. The repercussions of this natural calamity are profound, affecting communities, agriculture and infrastructure.
The El Niño weather pattern, characterised by warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, has triggered an abnormal and intense rainy season in Kenya. Thirty-six out of 47 counties have been impacted by a dangerous combination of riverine floods, flash floods, and landslides. The regions most affected include Garissa, Isiolo, Mandera, Marsabit, Samburu, Tana River, and Wajir counties, as well as Kilifi and Mombasa along the coast. ReliefWeb has reported that at least 95,772 households have been affected. Approximately 13,108 families are currently residing in 96 in temporary shelters and evacuation centres.
The agricultural sector has suffered significantly, with over 17,600 acres of farmland destroyed and more than 13,400 livestock reported dead. The impact extends to water and sanitation infrastructure, disrupting normal services and limiting access to water sources. The supply chain for medical, nutritional, and non-medical commodities, including routine programme items, has been disturbed. Roads are damaged, hindering emergency medical referrals, and health facilities are experiencing prolonged power outages, affecting care for individuals with chronic ailments.
The consequences of this flooding go beyond immediate concerns, with increased risks of cholera outbreaks, mental health issues, loss of livelihoods, post-harvest losses, and food security challenges. In times of crisis, the true mettle of a government is tested. President William Ruto's Kenya Kwanza government has mobilised resources to respond to the unfolding disaster. Recognising the situation's urgency, the government declared the floods a national disaster, activating emergency response mechanisms to mitigate their impact on communities.
Deploying disaster response teams, including the National Disaster Management Unit and Kenya Red Cross Society, reflects the government's commitment to providing immediate relief to those in distress. Evacuation efforts have been going on to relocate families from high-risk areas to safer locations, minimising the risk of loss of life. Temporary shelters have been set up to accommodate those displaced by the floods, ensuring their basic needs - shelter, food, and medical care are met.
The government has also initiated a comprehensive assessment of the damage inflicted by the floods. This assessment is the foundation for a strategic recovery plan, outlining the steps to rebuild and fortify vulnerable areas against future natural disasters. The government's dedication to a swift and effective response underscores the importance of a proactive approach to disaster management.
As we grapple with the current flood crisis, we must also recognise the broader context in which these disasters unfold – the spectre of climate change. The increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including floods, are indicative of a planet in distress. The ReliefWeb report on the El Niño floods in Kenya highlights the role of climate change in exacerbating these events, underscoring the need for a comprehensive approach to disaster resilience.
The East African Community’s (EAC) High-Level Forum on Climate Change and Food Security in Arusha, attended by leaders across the EAC, emphasised the inter-connectedness of climate change and its impact on food security. Dr Ruto's commitment to champion sustainable climate action within the EAC reflects an awareness of the need for regional collaboration in addressing the root causes and consequences of climate change. The discussions at the forum resonate with the current flood crisis, highlighting the imperative of proactive measures to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of a changing climate.
The President’s vision for Kenya’s sustainable future is not only confined to national borders. As he represents the EAC at COP 28 in Dubai, his role becomes pivotal in advocating for innovative and sustainable measures to address the global climate crisis.
The focus must extend beyond discussions to tangible, actionable solutions. Innovative measures that marry economic development with environmental sustainability are the need of the hour. The incorporation of green technologies, sustainable land-use practices, and climate-resilient infrastructure in national and regional development plans is paramount.
The global community must recognise the shared responsibility in addressing climate change, with developed nations contributing to the funding and technology transfer necessary for climate-resilient development.
The President's commitment to champion the interests of Kenya and the larger EAC at such a prestigious global platform signifies a recognition of the region's vulnerability to climate change and the importance of collaborative efforts in building resilience.
The Bottom-Up Economic Model, a key pillar of President Ruto's governance, aligns with the principles of sustainable development. It emphasises empowering local communities, ensuring they are not only recipients of aid but active participants in the decision-making processes that shape their future. In the context of climate change, this model becomes even more relevant, calling for community-based adaptation strategies that acknowledge the unique challenges different regions face.
In the face of Kenya's current flood crisis and the looming spectre of climate change, the call for collective action has never been more urgent. President Ruto's leadership, both nationally and internationally, positions Kenya as a key player in the global fight against climate change.
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I urge all stakeholders to unite in pursuing a resilient future. While the government and regional institutions have a primary responsibility to address the flood crisis, collective action is essential to ensure a comprehensive and sustainable response. The private sector, civil society organisations, and individual citizens can all play a role in supporting relief efforts and contributing to long-term recovery.