Government's flood disaster management does not inspire confidence

 

The search and Rescue team assisted one of the children of Mama Jane Nyambura who were stuck inside their house after the raging waters of Kijabe dam flooded the area. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

When President William Ruto chose to address the nation on Friday, it was expected that he would give sufficient direction to match the scale of the flood crisis.

Overall, management of the disaster has been dismal, and the messaging from the government is disjointed and incoherent, fueling a crisis of confidence. The administration cuts the image of a behemoth tottering under the weight of problems that one can almost feel sorry for the President. But not when it seems more engrossed in political engineering and economic pursuit to preserve power, and consequently too blind to discern the scale of a national disaster.

More than 200 people are dead - not just a number but people with families and communities - some who cannot be buried because water has claimed their land. More than 200,000 people are homeless, livelihoods have been lost alongside property and produce of unquantified value. The soft underbelly of Kenya’s shaky infrastructure and poor engineering standards has been fully exposed. But what really should President Ruto have told the country?

Disasters, like wars, are managed through a central point of command with clear deliverables. How the President decided that Cabinet secretaries will spearhead the disaster response and mitigation efforts across the country is shocking. This “all-of-government” approach, while with its own merits, only breeds confusion and lack of accountability. Common sense dictates that this responsibility falls under the CS for Interior who coordinates relevant administrative and security agencies. Probably his hands are too full to handle heavier duties. 

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua has seemingly been coordinating the effort yet the President's entire written speech made no mention of him, making it sound like an afterthought during the Q&A session with journalists. Shouldn’t the coordinator of the disaster have been present as the face of the effort? Shouldn’t the deputy coordinator be a representative from the Council of Governors?

Then, just what is this so-called National Disaster Operations Centre? Shouldn’t whoever is in charge be the most recognisable face in Kenya today at the frontlines? Instead, there is a website that speaks of a National Disaster Management Unit with its headquarters on the Eastern Bypass and with liaison offices at Jogoo House. The website that should be teeming with information on disaster zones, where or how people can get help, relocation centres etc instead makes generous reference to the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic and other historic efforts.

Disaster funds are a plum conduit to divert funds because disasters don’t always happen. But reports from the Office of the Controller of Budget indicate that counties are “sitting” on Sh973 million, almost half the cash budgeted for emergency funds. So governors should be carrying out significant disaster management efforts by themselves without waiting for the national government.

It is no wonder therefore that while Ruto directed the Treasury to provide money, he declined to disclose the exact amount of money Treasury will release. But disasters require definite resources, publicly declared and accounted for, and this applies to both national and county governments.

Education CS Ezekiel Machogu, in his middle-of-the-night wisdom, declared that the opening of schools would be postponed by a week. The next day, Mr Gachagua contradicted the CS saying that only schools in affected areas will remain closed. But Machogu released a circular affirming that schools will reopen despite the heavy rains only for the President to him shut down by closing schools indefinitely. This inconsistent and incoherent communication gives no credit to the “all of government” approach. 

While disaster management can overwhelm governments and exceed resources, overall, the response of the government and county governments has been dismally slow, action insufficient, and a lot more clarity is needed on how the systems the government is relying on will provide effective leadership and coordinated response to the disaster.

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