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Voices from Budalangi on the never ending floods

By Nanjinia Wamuswa | August 31st 2016
A flooded home in Musoma area of Budalangi Sub County and Busia County on 19th June, 2016. bUDALANGI RESIDENTS want officials to step in and offer permanent solutions, such as putting up dikes, and save them from their annual heartache. (PHOTO: NANJINIA WAMUSWA/ STANDARD)

At 3am on April 29, Francisca Akello was woken from her sleep by loud voices urging everyone to immediately leave their homes for higher grounds. Floods had come.

“The floods’ arrival was not a surprise. For several weeks, River Nzoia had been swelling and area administrators, among them chiefs and sub-chiefs, had warned us to be alert,” she said.

Akello, whose husband was away in Mombasa, woke her four children and they rushed out of their house. Once outside, they came face-to-face with water, which had already surrounded their house.

With her eldest 14-year-old daughter carrying the youngest child, Akello pulled the other two as they waded through floods for about 500 metres before coming to Mau Mau-Ruambwa Road, where other families, fleeing their homes, were gathering.

From here, they all moved to Anglican Church of Kenya, Musoma, to set up camp. As the floods continued to take their toll, this site would become home to some 250 families, totalling over 1,200 people, from Sitome, Mukhunja, Mukhuwa, Mudimba, Mau Mau, Bulwani and Bukeki villages.

At this time, Bunyala sub-county disaster committee reported over 7,000 people displaced across Budalangi sub-county.

“We have since moved the displaced to various camps and have also identified 14,565 people who are also at risk. We will monitor the situation and ask them to move to higher, safer grounds such as schools and churches should they see the water levels continue to rise,” said Stephen Kamau, chairman of sub-county disaster management committee.

Although faced by challenges, the disaster committee worked hard to manage the situation and today, most of the affected families have since returned home.

And while relative calm has returned to the area, it is a well-known fact that the perenial problem is bound to resurface. This presents a challenge to some like Akello, who live in the lower lands, while other residents have opted to move out of the area.

A walk through the villages presents a clear picture of what these floods have done to the community. Where once there was life - children playing in the compound with chicken clucking, cows mooing and goats bleating just a few metres away - there is now nothing but crumbling homes abandoned by their owners.

One such person who opted to leave the area is Gabriel Opiyo who moved out of Inyera to the safer Makina Village. This was after staying at the camps three times and losing houses, livestock and property.

Luckily, he had money to shift: “I relocated and bought half an acre of land at Sh150,000. Settling my family in our new home cost me Sh450,000,” revealed the father of five.

Opiyo said since he moved, the area has been hit by floods twice but his family has remained secure. He doesn’t regret his decision.

In Ruambwa Sub-location, one of the areas perennially and severely affected by floods, Assistant Chief Augustine Swart said there are those who refuse to leave, saying this is their ancestral land

“Here, people have been severely affected in every cycle of floods; they have lost their loved ones, livestock and property worth thousands of shilling but have not moved. They only leave when the floods hit and then return to rebuild their destroyed homes,” he said.

One such local is Raphael Okumu who vows not to leave.

“My grandparents and my father were all buried here. This is the land my family and l can authoritatively call ours. How can l move?” he asked.

Then there are those, such as Josephine Odhiambo Obare, who would want to leave but lack of finances keeps them here.

“I have been in various camps at Bulemia, Sikiri and Igigo, going without food and clean water. The cold affected me so much that at one time, l almost died of malaria for lack of medical attention. I am tired of having to go through this each time floods come,” said the 85-year-old widow from Igigo Village.

Josephine lost her house and all her belongings during the December 2011 floods. She later lived out in the open until, moved by her plight, her community contributed money, bought iron sheets and built her a house three years later.

Josephine, a widow without a child, said: “Any sign of floods kills my joy. I do not know who will build for me another house when this one is swept away.”

Mzee Kasimili Oduor, from Mumbira Village, who has lived in camps in 1960, 1963, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2008 and 2011, said lack of finances has barred him from relocating to a safer place.

“There is no dignity in living at the camps and we are forced to live with everyone, including daughters-in-law. Immorality is high as people engage in illicit sexual activities that lead to unwanted pregnancies and broken marriages,” said the 81-year-old.

The camps also cause disintegration of friendships as happened to Pitalys Sande when he was chosen to oversee distribution of tents and food in December 2011.

“I was picked as chair in various camps and my role largely involved distribution of relief foodstuffs and items from government and NGOs. My close friends and family expected me to give them bigger rations yet everyone was suffering and in need. When I did not, their attitude towards me changed and it has never been the same between us,” he says.

The recurrent floods have also made many shy away from planting crops and this has had a direct impact on the region’s food security.

“Acres under crops such as maize, potatoes, sorghum and beans have been destroyed by floods. There is looming danger of hunger in the future if steps are not taken to address this,” said John Kudombi, the acting chief for Khanjula Location.

This last incident of flooding occurred during the traditional “long rainy” season and as we move into what is considered the “short rains”, residents fear another episode could be on the way.

They want officials to step in and offer permanent solutions, such as putting up dikes, and save them from their annual heartache.

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