Why Kenya Must Act Now Before El Niño Strikes to Move Us from Crisis to Opportunity

Last week, the Head of Libya’s Red Cres­cent revealed that at least 11,300 peo­ple had per­ished in the dev­as­tat­ing floods that engulfed East­ern Libya two weeks ago. Many sur­vivors claimed the floods were more cat­a­stroph­ic than the wars that have con­sumed their nation for over a decade. Such tragedies under­score the lethal poten­tial of floods. It’s imper­a­tive for us Kenyans to pri­or­i­tize prepa­ra­tion for the antic­i­pat­ed El Nino rains expect­ed to hit parts of the coun­try from Octo­ber to January.

Let’s recall that in 1997, El Nino rains result­ed in the trag­ic loss of at least 2,000 lives. Despite the Kenya Mete­o­ro­log­i­cal Depart­ment issu­ing a warn­ing about the 1997–98 El Nino near­ly four months in advance, we took it light­ly and there­fore ade­quate prepa­ra­tions were not made. We can­not afford to make the same over­sight again. I sug­gest the fol­low­ing five strate­gies to bol­ster our preparedness:

First­ly, it is cru­cial to delib­er­ate­ly cre­ate a com­mon front. This is the point where we must drop all our per­ceived or real dif­fer­ences and speak in one voice for com­mon good. All 47 Coun­ties, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nation­al gov­ern­ment, must unite to heed the ear­ly warn­ings we’ve already received from Kenya mete­o­ro­log­i­cal department.

Tana Riv­er and Turkana Coun­ties, being par­tic­u­lar­ly vul­ner­a­ble to extreme weath­er events like floods, have made sig­nif­i­cant strides. Their efforts offer lessons that can be applied nation­al­ly. For instance, when Turkana’s Riv­er Kospir over­flowed, dev­as­tat­ing every­thing in its course, no lives or live­stock were lost because locals had heed­ed ear­ly warn­ings and relo­cat­ed to safer areas. In Tana Riv­er, Britam, in part­ner­ship with glob­al rein­sur­er Swiss Re, launched an index-based flood insur­ance solu­tion for small scale farm­ers along the Tana Riv­er. This ini­tia­tive deserves a pas­sion­ate­ly dri­ven nation­al scal­ing, facil­i­tat­ed by col­lab­o­ra­tion between the gov­ern­ment and the insur­ance sector.

Sec­ond­ly, cities like Nairo­bi, Mom­basa, Kisumu, Naku­ru, and Eldoret urgent­ly need ongo­ing drainage solu­tions. The same is required of any small town or mar­ket in Kenya. Poor­ly main­tained or non-exis­tent drainage sys­tems are major con­trib­u­tors to urban flood­ing. I com­mend Nairo­bi Gov­er­nor John­son Saka­ja for recruit­ing 3,500 indi­vid­u­als to lead the effort in unclog­ging and main­tain­ing drainage sys­tems in Nairo­bi. I sug­gest that such great actions be repli­cat­ed with speed and those involved be dri­ven to appre­ci­ate the mag­ni­tude of their assign­ment. For the medi­um and long term, Kenya should focus on flood-resilient infra­struc­ture, capa­ble of with­stand­ing intense rain­falls and sub­se­quent flood­ing. This involves map­ping out and retro­fitting vul­ner­a­ble urban struc­tures and roads, pro­vid­ing employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties for the youth.

Third­ly, both nation­al and coun­ty gov­ern­ments should ini­ti­ate exten­sive flood aware­ness sen­si­ti­za­tion cam­paigns. This will bol­ster com­mu­ni­ty pre­pared­ness and edu­ca­tion. Every Kenyan, both young and old, should be informed not only of the impend­ing rains but also the appro­pri­ate response mea­sures. With the Elni­no alarm, Igno­rance and unpre­pared­ness can no longer be excused.

Fourth, over the medi­um term, empha­sis should be on accel­er­at­ing refor­esta­tion and afforesta­tion, espe­cial­ly in hilly areas like Murang’a that are sus­cep­ti­ble to land­slides. Cre­ative ini­tia­tives such as Plant Your Age should be pop­u­lar­ized to inspire the pop­u­lace towards action. In the imme­di­ate term, res­i­dents in high-risk zones should be evac­u­at­ed proac­tive­ly. It’s always bet­ter to be safe than sorry.

Fifth, the upcom­ing El Nino presents a myr­i­ad of busi­ness oppor­tu­ni­ties which may include Rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing, Flood resis­tant hous­ing, Cli­mate resilient agri­cul­ture, Dis­as­ter Pre­pared­ness train­ing and ser­vices and eco­tourism solu­tions. In every cri­sis there lies great oppor­tu­ni­ties, and the secret lies in iden­ti­fy­ing them. I sug­gest that com­mer­cial banks be most inno­v­a­tive and tai­lored unique prod­ucts for the sea­son. Addi­tion­al­ly, farm­ers, espe­cial­ly in regions expect­ed to receive mod­er­ate rain­fall, should view this peri­od as a life­time oppor­tu­ni­ty to max­i­mize the use of their land to deal a huge tech­ni­cal knock­out to the cur­rent high cost of living.

Friends, the only way to bridge the gap between our aspi­ra­tions and oper­a­tions is by us delib­er­ate­ly choos­ing to move from plan to action. Let’s stand to be count­ed through our use­ful actions. I just did mine. Wewe je?  Think green, act green!



About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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