We knew the floods were on the way, but we didn't prepare well

Oseth Primary School in Agoro village, Nyando, submerged following heavy rains in the area. [Michael Mute, Standard]

For a month now, the rains have beaten us, literally. Yesterday the government even allocated us a holiday to remember the thousands who have either lost their lives or livelihoods, and the millions affected one way or the other by ongoing floods.

It was also a day dedicated to planting trees. This commendable commitment to tree planting must however be accompanied by a commitment to tree care, which is where we lose the plot.

Back to the rains. This biblical proportions deluge has devastated many economies, including those we assumed were free from the vagaries of weather.

It was shocking to see the devastation in the Gulf countries, particularly the Emirates, who at one point had to close off the Dubai airport. To their credit, they were not overwhelmed for long, and the power of the Gulf dollar could be seen at work amid the savage rains. To the extent that this was global phenomenon we can understand some of the helplessness that has infected government functionaries as emergencies prop every day; a landslide here, a burst dam there, a collapsed building there and so on ad-infinitum.

Some other truths: firstly, no amount of preparation would have totally eliminated the devastating impact of the rain.

Secondly, the effects of the current floods arise from years of negligence and wrongful acts, Sakaja’s governorship and the UDA tenure is but a minute contributor to the mess.

That said, we could have significantly reduced the floods impact had our governments been more proactive. There is a level of negligence in the way government handles disasters that is unfortunate.

For the last three years, metrological departments all over the world, have warned of the coming deluge. We even started clearing drains and preparing for the torrents last year with our usual enthusiasm. We however quickly moved on to other pursuits when the rains took too long to arrive.

The Solai dam catastrophe showed us the effects of burst dams on downstream populations. Everyone knew the rains were coming. Yet, the government allowed settlements in Mai Mahiu, with an upstream unstable dam. Settlements have also continued to expand in river riparians and basins as government watches. We are paying the price for this casual approach to life threatening issues.

Meanwhile, we are short of funds to effectively handle the crisis. What will surprise many Kenyans is that the Constitution and the public finance management laws require governments at both levels to set aside emergency funds for just the kind of challenges we are now facing.

The national government is even guided on the figures; a maximum amount of Sh10 billion every year. Knowing the possibility of emergencies and our limited fiscal margins, we should have been putting this money aside annually. Because it is a significantly low amount as a proportion of the annual budget, we could have managed it without a strain on the Exchequer. As a designated fund it would also not have been lapsing at the end of the year.

By the time the emergencies come, we would have had a sizable nest egg to cater for the difficult times. I would be surprised if any significant emergency funds have been set aside across government, even though we knew this crisis was coming.

Having said that there is a level of citizen civic responsibility that is shockingly absent in this Republic. I have seen people take all manner of risks, motoring through raging rivers, crossing rivers on rickety boats, or crossing through dangerously overwhelmed bridges.

I can understand desperate Kenyans taking such actions because they have no options. But there is a caliber of Kenyans who engage in risky behaviour to merely avoid inconvenience. These deserve Prof Kindiki’s charge of attempted suicide.

There is however a positive side to the floods story. I have been impressed by Kenyans civic spirit, many risking lives and limb to save fellow sufferers. I have seen outpouring of donations to those affected by floods from people giving from nothing.

It makes one proud to be Kenyan, even if momentarily. One hopes that this spirit will survive the floods and produce a kinder, more considerate Kenya. As for government, you have to be better prepared for disaster, you owe us at least that.

-The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya