News of floods, deaths and devastation: This is the new normal in the country for the past several weeks. Unfortunately, the latest prediction by the weatherman should make every Kenyan flinch. Reportedly there is no end in sight of the torrents and the heavy rain pounding the country. Extreme weather events such as droughts and floods are amid the immediate impacts of climate change. A report released by the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis last year revealed that droughts and floods between November 2016 and April 2018 are estimated to have affected over 3.4 million people and cost the government over Sh20 billion.
The National Government further allocated Sh1.5 billion for flood victims and another Sh1 billion to Red Cross for supporting the evacuation and counselling of victims.
The eventual cost of this year’s flooding is set to surpass this. The Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) already issued an alert that rains will be experienced up and until the end of the year; Christmas will certainly be wet.
Before the short rain season began in October, KMD issued a forecast that indicated that the country would have enhanced October- November- December (OND) rainfall. Probably, a few people took the forecast seriously while the majority may have applied the ‘wait and see’ approach as is the norm. As the rain continues to pour relentlessly, numerous Kenyans may still be wondering why the heavy rainfall. According to experts, the warming up of the Indian Ocean off the Kenyan coast (Western Indian Ocean) is causing the torrential downpour.
During an interview with Healthy Nation, principal meteorologist at KMD Ms Patricia Nying’ uro said Kenya is experiencing Indian Nino or the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). The IOD occurs when seawater temperatures increase on the surface of the Indian Ocean, off the Kenyan coast, she said. Due to the high temperatures, a lot of water evaporation occurs, and as the vapour rises to the sky, it cools and condenses (becomes heavy), forms clouds and rains in the adjacent areas. Scientifically, this is known as conventional rainfall; she explained, “We have been having a positive IOD from October,” she said. When the Indian Ocean is warm on the Kenyan coast, the opposite happens on the eastern side of the ocean where cooling results to drought on the Indian subcontinent and other areas east of the ocean like Australia. However, when the cooling is taking place off the western Indian Ocean (off Kenyan Coast), drought is experienced in Kenya and the Horn of Africa. Additionally, the rain-bearing low-pressure belt — Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) is squarely sitting on Kenya, said Ms Nying’ uro. Coupled with a positive IOD, the ITCZ brings heavy rainfall to Kenya. ITCZ determines seasons in the tropics where Kenya is situated.
It is a phenomenon brought about by the movement of the sun across the equator either going south or north.
When the belt is crossing over the equator, there is usually a convergence of trade winds from the northern and southern hemispheres. These winds force moist air upward; it condenses (forms clouds) and comes down like rain over the tropics.
“In our seasonal forecasts, we said we would have enhanced rainfall. Currently, the IOD is still positive, and we are still monitoring the sea for any changes,” said Ms Nying’ uro. The sun is moving towards the south and will reach its most southerly declination in Kenya around December 22. Although the rain being experienced is not El-Nino which occurs off the Pacific Ocean, the IOD coupled with ITCZ is similar said Dr Phillip Omondi, an expert, working of the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC). “The Indian Nino is not unusual,” he said during an interview, adding that Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are experiencing heavy rainfall because of the phenomenon. Of the four, Kenya and Somalia are the most affected, he said. On Friday, Tropical Cyclone Pawan made landfall north of Somalia and brought about some effect to Kenya, but not so much, said Dr Omondi. According to Ms Nying’ uro, although cyclones can never make landfall on Kenya, Cyclone Pawan may have affected the southern part of the country by pushing the ITCZ upwards and bringing in more rain. Over the weekend, there were two other cyclones, Belna and Ambali developing off the northern coast of Madagascar.
While Kenyans strive to understand what is happening, they may be staring at other crises. Studies done on the aftermath of floods reveal that its impact is felt years after in the form of the cost of destruction of infrastructure, loss of life, homes, livelihoods and disease outbreaks. Health effects often related to floods are gastrointestinal and respiratory infections.
However, flooding could also lead to instances of drowning, injury, poor mental health, and disability. The most immediate fear of in the current flooding situation is the outbreak of epidemic diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, and dengue fever due to contamination of drinking water supply. This occurs when the floods carry parasites, bacteria and viruses into drinking water systems.
Cholera is one of the primary disease outbreaks associated with flooding in eastern and southern Africa. From January to April 2019 alone, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced epidemics in 21 countries with Kenya accounting for 35 per cent of the cases reported this year, followed by Mozambique (31 per cent).
Destruction of sanitation and health facilities by storm waters makes the spread of diseases worse since this drive people to defecate in open spaces for lack of toilets. Also, sewage systems have broken down due to the pressure from storm waters.
At least 280 people have died and more than 2.8 million others affected by unusually heavy rainfall and flooding in Eastern Africa, the United Nations (UN) humanitarian agency said on Thursday.
The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said homes, infrastructure and livelihoods had been destroyed and damaged in the hardest-hit areas, and the risk of infectious diseases, including cholera, is rising.
The UN agency said the annual short rains, which ordinarily last from October to December, have been exceptionally heavy in Kenya and affected more than 160,000 people in 31 of the country’s 47 counties.
“At least 132 people have reportedly died, including 72 who were killed by a landslide which buried their homes in West Pokot County,” said OCHA. There has been debate over which gender is most affected by floods and landslides in the country and beyond. Director for Programmes and Disaster Operations at the Kenya Red Cross Mr Ayaz Manji revealed that all genders had been affected by the floods equally. He, however, added that the elderly, women and children could stand a higher chance of being more vulnerable to floods depending on where they find them. “The three categories could be more prone to floods due to their venerability like for-example where they live and where they are by the time the floods occur,” said Mr Manji.
Apart from possible health effects, the continued flooding is also causing destruction and damage to vital infrastructure in Kenya, including houses, roads, bridges, health facilities and schools, and disrupting essential services, hampering effective humanitarian response efforts in affected areas.
Since the beginning of the rains, the number of power outages has been on the rise. This is mainly due to the rain and wind, which lead to breaking trees or poles, causing them to fall over the lines. This means outside of planned power interruptions, in the event of a prolonged outage, you need to worry about the food in your fridge and alternative power sources. Recommendations by Red Cross in the event of power outages, include having bottles of frozen water in your freezer to help preserve food for longer. Avoid opening your refrigerator as it will be able to keep food safe for up to four hours during a power outage. If food is in the freezer, it should be safe for use for approximately 48 hours or 24 hours if it is half full and the door remains closed. Additionally, never taste food to determine its safety. When in doubt, throw it out!
The cost of transport has also been adversely impacted, forcing many commuters to pay more fare for their regular routes. The hike in fares is only set to get worse with the festive season around the corner as many people prepare to travel upcountry.
A spot check on flight charges revealed that to some areas like Mombasa and Kisumu, the prices have already doubled from last week.
If the price is not of concern to you, then time might be an issue. The flooding has resulted in cut-off roads, destroyed embankments, mudslides, undermining of structures, washouts and potholes, all of which lead to more traffic and vehicle damage.
Long-distance commuters and motorists are also advised to check rain advisories and have an emergency bag before they travel. The bag should contain at least some dried foods, fluids, blankets, toilet paper and a first aid kit just in case they end up sitting in traffic for hours. This was the case on Friday, December 6, along the Nakuru-Nairobi Highway, travellers were forced to spend the night in the cold following a gridlock that lasted over 14 hours.
For the tourism sector, images of flood-affected areas and further warnings, could to cancellations in bookings and a significant reduction in tourist numbers. The effects on prices and inflation will also soon be felt due to supply constraints as a result of crop destruction, erosion of productive layers of the soil rendering the soil less productive. This loss of food reserves will result in reduced production and increased costs of production. Mr Richard Odindo, social and behaviour change expert, however, believes that not all hope is lost. “The flooding problem takes back years of development and costing the government millions of shillings in reconstruction and recovery,” says Mr Odindo. He called upon the government and counties affected by the floods to intensify surveillance to prevent disease outbreaks that could place enormous strain on public healthcare infrastructure.
He says the risk of outbreaks can be minimised if the risk is well recognised and disaster-response addresses the provision of clean water as a priority. “While floods can be immensely destructive, people’s precautions and reactions can mean the difference between life and death. This emphasises the importance of social preparedness, knowledge and capacities of different stakeholders to anticipate, prepare themselves, and respond to imminent flood risks for efficient flood risk reduction, especially in flood-prone areas,” he told the Healthy Nation.