By: Siyad Jimale
Most part of the country is currently receiving an unusual rains for the past one week. The heavy rainfall and the flash floods have wreaked havoc, leading to the death of at least 15 people by Monday.
Red Cross also highlighted that the floods has destroyed 241 acres of agricultural farmland with the coastal region and the Northeastern Counties of Mandera and Wajir are the worst affected.
Kenya Meteorological Department issued an advisory in September, stating that the country would face heavier than usual rains during the short rainy season between October and December. A month later, President William Ruto contradicted the forecast, telling Kenyans that the experts had revised their advice and that “there would be no devastating El Nino flooding.”
The worst floods were the El Nino rains of 1997-98, which displaced 1.5 million people. Drought, on the other hand, hit hardest in 2011, leaving 3.5 million people and 4.5 million people in 2022/23 affected by famine.
The mordancy in these disasters is that the country never seems prepared all the time. There are never enough water reserves when drought hits and no harvesting of rainwater on the other hand.
THE CHRONOLOGY OF El-NINO IN 1997
After seven years, Kenya is staring at and experiencing yet another El Niño phenomenon. This is after the World Meteorological Organisation on Wednesday, July 5, declared the onset of El Niño conditions. El Niño occurs on average every two to seven years, and episodes typically last nine to 12 months.
Dr David Gikungu, the head of Kenya Meteorological Department says that for instance, the 1987 October-December season was an El Niño event that did not result in heavy rainfall over the country.
The 1997 rainfall had a devastating impact on agriculture, water resources, transport, communications and health sectors due to its uniqueness, intensity and destructive power.
The rains, which started as normal rains in October 1997 in most parts of the country, slowly morphed into floods in November and continued in intensity into January the following year before subsiding slowly and ending in mid-February.
Widespread flooding led to the destruction of property in several sections of the country, mud/landslides and the destruction of dams and the siltation of rivers. Increased rainfall resulted in increased plant and animal diseases, and a reduction in yields while several cases of deaths of animals through drowning were also reported.
Several bridges and an estimated 100,000 km of both rural and urban roads were destroyed leading to a general paralysis of the transport system in most parts of the country.
Several health facilities were physically destroyed while an upsurge of disease epidemics and an increase in morbidity and mortality rates were witnessed.
Even though the meteorological department had issued an advisory early enough, it was received with scepticism due to alleged pre-forcast. This was observed in a research paper by a group of experts from the University of Nairobi.
Additionally, in 2015 the El Niño index was higher than that of 1997 but the country did not experience as much rainfall as it did in 1997.
Some communities, resilient in the face of water scarcity and hunger during the drought, now find themselves navigating the challenges of floods.
A stark reminder of the current nature of our climate and the need for adaptive and sustainable solutions. pic.twitter.com/yBYE126NPl
— Kenya Red Cross (@KenyaRedCross) November 7, 2023
THE 2023 El-NINO CHALLENGES
The extreme heavy rainfalls experienced in most part of the country, especially in Northeastern region has resulted an extensive flooding that killed a significant people, caused destruction of properties and death of animals through drowning.
The transport systems in the region has been completely paralyzed. Both rural and urban roads in Northeastern part of Kenya are currently impassable, making the movement of drugs, goods and people a strenuous task.
Tens of vehicles were swept away as raging floods charge through major roads including Garissa-Wajir-Mandera highway.
Apart from the main roads, frontage roads that links settlements along the way have also been rendered impassable, making the transportation of national exams, medicine and perishable goods hard to deliver. All this is happening at the backdrop of an impending water-borne diseases.
Several towns and villages including Elwak in Mandera South, Burdeer and Diff in Wajir South are marooned by floods. Schools and health centers were submerged and severely affected in Mandera County as the rains continued to be experienced. Over 5,000 households in the area were reportedly affected.
Most of the towns in Northeastern counties are waterlogged and others, which bore the brunt of this El-nino catastrophe of 2023, are at risk of a waterborne epidemic.
The farms-lands of those who made a paradigm shift from pastoralism to farming have completely been destroyed and size-able number of livestock have died as a result of the heavy rains, thus shattering the concerted efforts to address perennial food insecurity and droughts. The unpredictable weather pattern has made rain-fed agriculture and pastoralism, untenable.
The bank and force flow of water caused by floods removes the chunks of land, causes soil erosion, which in turn reverse the gains made in mitigating effects of climate change.
There is dire humanitarian crisis in NEP counties that need to be addressed urgently and earnestly.
"We are at risk of Al-Shabab attacks."
Non-local teachers, other travellers stuck in Kutulo town along Mandera-Wajir road pic.twitter.com/RfpCo2XmPu
— Kulan Post (@kulanpost) November 6, 2023
WHAT’S AT STAKE AND THE WAY FOWARD
As projected by the weatherman, the torrential rains and flooding is set to last for years. The patterns match the indicators of Elnino phenomenon. It’s advisable for the President to declare the situation a national disaster so that all resources can be channelled to remedy the matter and its aftermath.
Secondly, the rapid restoration of the key road networks in the region to ease the movement of goods and the people should be a matter of urgency.
After this situation is done with, the government should fast-track the construction of Bute Major Dam and other Mega Dams to harvest the rainwater, contain the floods and be a reserve that serves the livestocks, farms and the people in the region. We can’t be victims when drought hits and find ourselves in unprepared disaster when it rains above average.
In the meantime, President Ruto’s administration should come up with other flood control and disaster management measures to address this recurring floods.
I urge President William Ruto to heed our call and act swiftly in declaring this crisis a national disaster to avoid reoccurrence of what happened during the last drought season.
At the height of the drought season, a good number of leaders from NEP counties and non-governmental organizations including Horizon analysts and researchers network made a call for the President to declare drought as National disaster but that failed to materialize causing the loss of estimated Sh226 billion due to the deaths of livestocks in the recurrent drought according to NDMA data.
Challenges of food insecurity is also another emergency issue that need to be attended to at the soonest time possible lest we suffer losses of more lives and livelihoods in the region.
The region is at risk of waterborne epidemic, especially the waterlogged areas, a situation that needs the government to come up with urgent measures to avert the looming risk and address anything detected.
Siyad Jimale is the Executive Director of Horizon Analysts and Researchers Network