El Nino: Communities in Kenya get weather info, but not more

  • By Getrude Lung'ahi
  • 08/10/2015

A field training/ Getrude Lung'ahi

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County governments in Kenya recently announced their readiness to cope with the predicted impact of El Nino, but are communities really ready?

The Kenya Meteorological department has predicted El Nino effects on the weather to begin in October and continue into January in some areas. Most of the identified El Nino hot spots usually experience floods during short and long rain seasons because the areas are low lying.

However, communities in Kenya are currently in a dilemma about what action to take after receiving advisories on El Nino from government and other actors. Though people are getting these weather reports and warning, they do not feel practically prepared for El Nino effects, therefore meaning the magnitude of the damage could be high.

The El Nino advisory may tell people to beware of flooding rivers, but people have no idea about how to act upon this information. Issuing advisories without considering factors that determine the degree to which society is prepared for and able to recover from natural disasters is not useful.

Communities say they feel left out of the decision-making processes on the practical preparedness options – leaving a lot of uncertainties and frustrations among them.

Although awareness on what El Nino is and the potential risks associated with it has been widely conducted using electronic, print, social media and through public gatherings (Barazas) people living in areas that have been identified as hot spots are becoming frustrated on how to respond to the advisories. They expect the government to provide land/space and facilitate the relocation in terms of money.

 ‘‘We are told to relocate to safer grounds, where is this safer ground, how do we do it? I have animals that include cattle, goats and chicken. How do I move with them including my other property and family? Surely I will just remain here and wait since I can’t afford the cost of relocating myself and family’’, says Joseph Koech, Rift Valley, Kenya.

In the maize production regions including Trans-Nzoia, Uasin Gishu and the western parts of the country, farmers have been advised to harvest their maize to avoid losses due to the expected heavy rains. However, farmers are complaining they are not yet ready for harvesting since it requires finances and proper planning.

Preparing for disaster, or averting it?

Although Kenya has a National Disaster Operation Centre (NDOC) which was established in January 1998 to act as the focal point for coordinating response to emergencies and disasters, people are not sure who they should turn to with their uncertainties and frustrations.

County disaster management funds to respond to El Nino have been set aside, however it’s not clear how the communities will be involved in identifying priorities.

El Nino does not necessarily mean that the country will face a disaster. In fact, if respective entities worked on long-term solutions, they could manage El Nino and use its effects positively. For example, if appropriate measures on water harvesting are done at national, county and household levels, heavy rains could provide water stocks for people living in arid and semi-arid areas.

If communities’ voices were incorporated in planning and designing a mechanism to cope with the effects of the expected heavy rains, there would be plenty of time to discuss practical solutions. For example, the communities could discuss how they can move with their animals and properties to identified locations e.g. hiring of required transport, jointly developing security measures for their properties.

Discussions on how their children can continue schooling while in the temporary locations could be prioritized. An option may be, for example, the community deciding to create a makeshift school .This will also stop pupils risking their lives crossing dangerous rivers to access schools witnessed in the past. The people of Kenya now know that El Nino may make these rivers dangerous, but it seems as though communities may not yet have the planning tools or practical materials necessary to respond to this and other weather info. Frustrating.

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