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Agencies Who Manage Disaster Need To Seriously
Review Both Their Operations And Preparedness ...

Coastweek -- Over the last couple of weeks, I have concentrated on the rains and the hazards it creates for motorist, writes TETI KAMUGUNDA.

However, the power of water and our seeming unpreparedness from all angles has led to multiple cases of both uncontrolled and uncontrolled release of large quantities of water that have resulted in fatalities and extensive damage.

The high concentration of local precipitation rather than the total seasonal volume of rain is what has caught most agencies unawares and unprepared. In past years we have looked to associate the unusual with global extremes.

The “El Nino” and “La Nina” effects that have impacted on Kenya had different outcomes.

The first major effect in recent memory was the El Nino in 1997 through 1998.

This was predicted in many instances across the globe and our agencies also knew about the impending precipitation.

However, our agencies seemed to ignore the warnings by the global weather watch and were completely unprepared to deal with the what happened.

A bridge on the Nairobi Mombasa road was washed away and caused days of delays with passengers in both public and private vehicles spending days on the road as the government scrambled the army to go and erect a temporary bridge to allow for transport to resume.

Landslides were recorded in many parts of the country and flooding was seen in some of the more traditional parts of the country and especially in then the Nyanza and Western provinces.

The slow reaction by the traditional agencies and a huge public outcry caused the formation of the Kenya National Disaster Operation Centre.

A couple of years later, the government also established the National Disaster Coordinating Committee whose role was to bring together the policy and decisions makers at the highest level in government to allow for fast tracking of decisions and also for the release of resources for operations of the Disaster Operations centre.

So, in principle we have all the necessary organs to not only respond to disasters but hopefully to also minimise the risk of disasters happening.

They have a responsibility for disaster risk reduction.

However, we have seen very little of this action and it is crucial that this agency begins to discharge this very crucial responsibility.

Unfortunately, every single government ministry and agency has some kind of agency that is supposed to manage the potential disaster within its docket.

Typical management agencies include those for drought and disease outbreaks especially communicable ones.

We have however seen the green shoots of success in that the El Nino that hit the country in 2015 did not seem to create as much havoc as what happened in 1998 and this can be attributed to a better level of preparedness and response capability resulting from the learnings of the earlier event.

These major global weather phenomena happen roughly every five to seven years so we are in a relatively safe period in as far as global events are concerned.

However, the reality is that even though we are not seeing a major global phenomenon this year we are seeing local aberrations of weather.

This is not unusual and the role of the disaster risk reductions agency is to develop scenarios given the realities that have obtained in Kenya and to then ensure that we put remedial actions in place.

So far this year we have had flooding in most parts of the country causing damage and loss of life.

It is not as though we could not have foreseen this. Human interventions and interference in many of the areas that safeguard against flooding both flash and normal can be mapped.

We spent a lot of time talking about the lack of tree cover yet this in itself should have been a danger signal to the likelihood of flooding happening. 

The rapid clearance of bush and use of land for farming in areas where there was no traditional farming in the past should have sent danger signals about the likelihood of flooding.

Part of the problem is also the rapid increase in built up areas which also increases the chances of flooding. Let us consider examples.

The breach of a bridge in the Athi River area as well as the flooding in the same area that caused houses in an adjacent estate to be submerged was mainly as a result of the developments in Kitengela and Isinya areas.

The perennial problem of the silting and flooding of Mai Mahiu to Narok road was worsened this year by the increasing habitation of the eastern slopes of the Rift Valley.

The deaths and displacements that happened on the lower Tana River and Sabaki were known and the deaths could have been prevented especially on the lower Tana as the sudden flooding was a result of the release of water from upstream dams that were threatening to break due to overfilling by the high flows of the rivers.

The collapse of the Patel dam in Solai was also mainly caused by upstream activity but could have been mitigated had regular inspection of the infrastructure taken place. This caused multiple deaths and damage to a lot of property and crops.

As I write, there is also the collapse of certain parts of the River Yala embankments that are causing damage and flooding in those areas and people are being asked to move to higher ground.

The Ministry of Energy has warned – early enough this time – that Masinga dam is likely to fill to capacity and that water would then be released.

This is the best that could happen.

However, people are being asked to move to higher ground again but where will they stay?

What will happen to their crops?

Livestock?

Houses?

Schools?

Public amenities and investments?

What measures do we have in place to mitigate this kind of situation?

The agencies that are supposed to manage such disasters need to seriously review their operations and preparedness.

There are too many things catching us unawares and then when they do the response has been wanting.

It took several days of flying over the flooded Tana river on “assessment and reconnaissance”.

The response has been very limited despite the fact that a lot of money has been allocated to the agencies that should response to such calamities.

The reality is that precipitation intensity and spread is going to change as climate change begins to bite deeper.

Our activities, planned or otherwise, will alter the behaviour of water and this is reasonably predictable.

The tools and the knowledge to understand and mitigate the changing behaviour of water in response to our activities are available and the Disaster Mitigation and Disaster Management Agencies should come out and work with wananchi to analyse and put in place responses.

The loss of life and property is painful and simply creates resentment against government and it is best, in the national interest that things that can be prevented with very simple interventions are done and done swiftly AND regularly.

As Kachumbari says, forewarned is forearmed.

 

SEE ALSO:
 

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