Hundreds of families displaced, property destroyed as floods hit Busia

Submerged maize crop at Bunyala Irrigation Scheme in Busia County after flash floods hit the area when Lake Kanyaboli, in Siaya County, burst its banks on May 18, 2023. Over 900 families have been displaced. [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

Joseph Okumu, a resident of Bumacheke village in Busia County, is a disturbed man. By the time he went to bed on Tuesday night, he had a lot of property, including a home and livestock.

Okumu was doing well in many aspects of his life. His crop of maize was also flourishing in the field.

However, he would wake up the following morning a beggar, quite literally, thanks to floods that hit Bunyala Irrigation Scheme, destroying everything.

Okumu lost his dairy cows that were swept away by the flash floods. His home as well as his maize crop have been submerged.

The floods came after Lake Kanyaboli, which is found within the Yala ecosystem in Siaya County, broke its banks on Sunday with all the excess water ending up in Bunyala.

"We are in dire need of help. The situation here is desperate. We have lost everything," Mr Okumu said on Wednesday.

The floods have washed away crops in over 8,000 acres of farmland, and submerged homes and schools in Bunyala.

Busia Governor Paul Otuoma (centre), on May 18, 2023, during a Joint Disaster Committee meeting between Busia and Siaya counties to discuss ways of mitigating the effects of the floods that have hit Bunyala Irrigation Scheme, destroying property and displacing hundreds of residents. [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

Okumu's is just one of the 900 families that suffered the wrath of mother nature, having nowhere to go or anything to eat.

The affected residents have been forced to move into camps within Budalang'i constituency to escape the wrath of nature.

The floods have also rendered roads impassable and washed away Ndekwe, Sidokho and Dolola bridges in Bunyala South and Bunyala Central wards.

A spot check by The Standard established that Mabinju, Budala, Rukala, Runyu, Bulwani and Iyanga villages in Bunyala South Ward, Bubamba and Buongo villages in Bunyala Central Ward and Bumacheke village in Bunyala North Ward have all been submerged.

"It was raining heavily, especially around 4 am. I heard people shouting outside and I woke up. I realised they were alerting us to run to safer grounds as the flood waters flowed in furiously," another resident, James Ofuku, said.

He added: "I was shocked when I lit my lantern to see my house already filled with flood waters. My wife and I took our children and ran away. We didn't salvage anything. It was devastating."

Busia governor Paul Otuoma, who toured the area in the company of area County Commissioner Kipchumba Rutto, among other officials, called for immediate rehabilitation of the dyke at Lake Kanyaboli to control the overflow of water downstream.

"We need the military and National Youth Service to respond to this disaster immediately to avert more destruction considering the fact that Busia and Siaya counties cannot manage this alone," said Dr Otuoma who was speaking during a Joint Disaster Committee meeting between Busia, Siaya and Lake Agro Limited in Siaya during which they sought ways of mitigating the crisis.

A village that has been marooned by flood waters at Bunyala Irrigation Scheme in Busia. [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

"We have agreed as Busia and Siaya county governments on what we can do on a short and long-term basis to mitigate the effects of the floods on livelihoods," said Otuoma

The governor called on the national government and its agencies to intervene and avert a looming environmental and humanitarian crisis across the entire Yala Swamp Ecosystem.

"This is a nightmare for residents and must be remedied as quickly as possible because settlements and farmlands downstream have been affected. On the other hand, the lake is rescinding upstream," said Rutto, the county commissioner.

He added: "I want to assure downstream communities in Bunyala and Kanyaboli environs that the government is keen on ensuring the situation doesn't get out of control."

Lake Agro Limited General Manager Nev Davies lauded the governor and county leadership for their commitment towards remedying the disaster.

"We are happy that other agencies are coming in to assist us mitigate this situation. However, we will appreciate a long-term solution to end the perennial floods," Davies said.

Ibrahim Ogolla, a Conservation Warden in Western Region, emphasized the need to conserve the ecosystem by ensuring the lake has a permanent inlet and an outlet to control water overflow.

"The lake is quickly draining out to Yala Swamp ecosystem which is home to millions of fauna, flora and other endangered animal species. We call for an immediate solution to prevent more losses," said Mr Ogolla.

The national government has agreed to dispatch equipment and personnel to rehabilitate the Lake Kanyaboli dyke that burst on Sunday causing massive flooding.

Mr Cyrus Oguna, Siaya County's Chief of Staff who represented Governor James Orengo, said they will continue working with their counterparts in Busia County to ensure proper and timely interventions.

"We have already identified areas of intervention we intent to act upon to ensure our people's lives are restored and this challenge does not reoccur," said the former government spokesperson.

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