Assessment of Kenya’s disaster preparedness reveals more needs to be done

A woman trying to collect the little water remaining after a prolonged drought. Poor planning for disasters exposes kenyans to life threatening conditions. Picture:Courtesy
A woman trying to collect the little water remaining after a prolonged drought. Poor planning for disasters exposes kenyans to life threatening conditions. Picture:Courtesy

Managing natural disasters in Kenya has for a long time been an anxious move with hydro metrological and environmental processes as the key factors triggering the occurrence.

However, the need for preparedness to keep the catastrophes at bay has left many weather experts to dig deep into their expertise in order to come up with a conclusive measure and to fully curb the menace any time it appears.

Recently, Development Initiative launched an assessment report on Kenya’s preparedness to disasters caused by natural hazards. The assessment focussed on floods, drought and disease outbreak.

The report outcome indicated that there is an increase in budget allocation for disaster preparedness, particularly at the international level through aid donation.

The report revealed only 23 out of 47 counties under the control of National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) are well coordinated in terms of disaster preparedness.

Marther Bekele, a data analyst at Development Initiative outlined major approaches required to face the problems, says: “There is need for early warning information about drought and flood in prone areas. In disaster, we normally look at preparedness at national level.

Data and early warning information which brings about the access to data on disasters, risks and weather information should be some of the key considerable factor for the control of the catastrophe, added Bekele.

Among counties most hit by the natural calamities are Migori and Mandera with vulnerable areas experiencing severe floods and drought respectively, almost annually.

Mandera County has been prone to drought for years and the move to mitigate the problem is encouraging.

Different stakeholders have come together for disaster preparedness. This in the recent past has been a concern to civil society organisations and United Nations agencies, scaling down their operations due to unfavourable security situation and dwindling resources.

Mandera is ranked second in terms of poverty with over 85 percent of residents living below the poverty line. According to the released report this is due to 11 like drought, flash floods, cross-border conflicts and disease outbreaks.

“In addition, the institutional approach to controlling disasters is actually a sheer method as we look at what is happening nationally. There is also the legal and financial framework,” Bekele explains.

There is information available with over 300 data sets in terms of monitoring disaster preparedness. According to Bekele, culture has been a great setback for Kenya to gain capacity for preparedness because of poor cultural diversity.

Another issue that should be taken into consideration is lack of political goodwill. Bekele notes a bill that was introduced in the National Assembly to be debated on but has not yet gone through due to lack of political support.

Migori County is another area in the country prone to disasters especially floods that trigger an outburst of other calamities like the outbreak of diseases like cholera.

Speaking to Talk Africa, Symon Awidhi, volunteer member of the Red Cross Society of Kenya in Migori’s Nyatike Sub-County noted that disaster in Nyatike is dynamic, cutting across geographical locations.

Awidhi said: “This area is prone to both floods and drought which occurs simultaneously, leading to destruction of property and loss of lives.”

The last severe floods experienced in Nyatike was in 2015 and led to an outbreak of cholera and loss of both human and livestock lives. Six people died and over 100 livestock were lost due to flood and drought respectively.

“Whenever the floods occur there must be disease outbreak like chorea and malaria. People starve because of heavy rainfall that never favours the land tenure in the area which is sandy soil,” explains Awidhi. He adds: “When the water subsides, the land becomes so dry that it cannot support growth of crops leading to poor return from the farm.”

He advocates for capacity building for the vulnerable community in the area on the need to come together to mitigate the menace by planting trees along the river banks as well as preservation of water bodies by land owners.

Awidhi would also like to see the Migori County Government come up with an appropriate plan to control these natural calamities in the area. He said: “It is high time Migori County Assembly swallowed its pride and gave priority to debating on the appropriate allocation of funds for disaster preparedness especially in the flood prone areas.”

Red Cross Society of Kenya in Migori County has teamed up with 14 non-governmental organisations who have come through with advocacy on how to manage health issues related to disaster.

Susan Mahabe, Member of the first Migori County Assembly who was also the chairperson of Environment of Disaster Management said that managing disaster in the area should be a community priority before engaging both national and county governments.

Mahabe applauded the community she comes from whereby there is an adaptable measure to mitigate the disaster through women’s empowerment by training them on disaster management.

“Our initiative is working with the county relevant ministry to purchase seedlings and fertilizer on subsidised prices for my people. We have worked with the County Ministry of Agriculture to promote modern farming techniques which include mitigating disaster,” said Mahabe.

She noted that this year there was an increase in budget allocation for disaster management and preparedness in Migori County.

Said Mahabe: “About 2.2 percent of the budget was allocated for disaster preparedness as compared to last budget when there was only 1.1 percent of the total annual county budget given for digging up four boreholes for each ward.”

However, she said that as a country Kenyans are more reactive than proactive. Kenya Red Cross comes in to control at a time when the disaster has already featured, instead of controlling and preventing in time.

According to the recently released profile on Kenya Natural Disaster by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under Kenya’s Department of Meteorology, over of 80 percent of Kenya’s land mass is arid and semi-arid, supporting about half of the livestock population of the country and over 30 percent of total human population. These dry areas are prone to harsh weather conditions rendering communities within the areas vulnerable to natural hazards, especially drought. Nearly 70 percent of Kenya’s land mass is affected by drought.

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