Every so often, the reality that is Kenya’s underdevelopment is brought home dramatically.
Indeed, looking at the pictures of our combined force of 4,500 personnel from the Kenya Army, Kenya Forest Services, National Youth Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, Administration Police, the Provincial Administration, Local Government and volunteers fighting forest fires using twigs was one such reality.
That was the extent of the equipment mobilised to fight wild fires that have ravaged Kenya’s main forests.
The Forestry and Wildlife ministry estimates that the government has so far lost more than Sh65 million worth of natural resources in the fires.
Minister Noah Wekesa said on Tuesday that the blazes had destroyed forests covering 4,651 hectares in the Mau Complex alone. Other fires were in the Aberdares and Karura forests.
The fire fighters had no specialised equipment. Many of the fires were in places inaccessible to fire engines, and water could not be pumped to douse the blaze.
Contrast this state of affairs to the one applied in combating recent forest fires in Australia that killed more than 200 people, or the bush fires common in parts of the United States, particularly California.
There, bush fires are fought from the air and on the ground. Aircraft “bomb” the fires with water while fire trucks do their bit on the ground.
High pressures hoses are also connected to taps on the ground, while earth-moving equipment is deployed to dig deep trenches to act as firebreaks.
In America and Australia, aircraft tankers are used as the most common fire fighting equipment.
The types of aircraft used include fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
Aircraft that can drop water at high pressure from high attitudes are being developed.
One such aircraft has been tested in the US. The B747 Supertanker, with a payload of more than 20,000 gallons (75,700 litres) is said to have more than eight times the drop capability and twice the speed of any other air tanker currently fighting fires.
Just one such aircraft could have saved tens of lives lost in the January Nakumatt Supermarket fire.