NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With 62 dead and almost 90,000 displaced by floods, Kenya’s new government is coming under pressure to improve its response to natural disasters.
Kenya has been experiencing heavy rains since early March. Rivers have burst their banks and flooded villages, washing away homes, crops and bridges. Buildings have collapsed, vehicles been swept away and children buried alive in landslides.
Military helicopters and motorboats have been deployed to rescue people stranded by floodwaters.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has appealed for nearly $4 million to provide food, shelter, blankets, water, medicines and cash to affected populations.
“The main priority of the Red Cross is to continue emergency search and rescue efforts,” Abbas Gullet, secretary general of the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) said in a statement.
LIFE BETWEEN DROUGHT AND FLOOD
Kenya swings between drought and flood virtually every year.
The semi-arid northern lands, where nomads roam with livestock and some half a million Somalis live in the world’s largest refugee camp, have been worst hit over the last two months. KRCS says 26,558 people have been displaced in this region, while the coast is the second worst affected, with 24,787 displaced.
“For the farming communities that have lost their livelihoods, they will need assistance for the next three to six months. The pastoralist communities that have lost their animals also would need assistance, so another vicious circle,” said Gullet.
He lamented the fact that virtually all of the rainwater has poured into the Indian Ocean and Lake Victoria, rather than being stored. During dry seasons, aid agencies spend millions trucking water to many of the same areas that are currently under floodwaters.
“We have not been able to capture this water,” said Gullet. “I hope and pray that with the new government, with the new commitment, water harvesting and water management will become something of a reality and not just rhetoric and talk like we have seen in the past.”
On April 18 Kenya’s new vice president, William Ruto, said that the government will set up a national disaster management authority and develop a five-year plan to build dykes and dams to curb flooding.
Ruto, who was elected on March 4, said the new government would “eliminate guesswork” in disaster response.
A draft national policy for disaster management, published in 2009, promised to set up such a national disaster management agency. However, it stated that that “lack of political will has slowed down the process of putting in place an effective disaster management system”.