A flood is an expensive natural disaster, resulting in chaos and disruptions to daily and economic activities, damage to infrastructure and even loss of lives. In addition to natural causes, floods are mainly attributed to continuous heavy rainfall, rapid development, unplanned urbanisation, poor drainage system and environmental degradation.
Since the onset of the March-May long rains, flash floods have been reported in many parts of Kenya with 13 counties being the most affected. In the urban settings the situation has been worsened by unsustainable human practices and poor drainage. The flooding problem takes back years of development and costing the government millions of shillings in reconstruction and recovery. The ongoing heavy rains across Kenya, have so far resulted in 29 deaths in flood and landslide-related incidents, 11,700 people displaced and over 10,000 livestock lost.
Social impacts of floods in Kenya include poor health due to contamination of water resources, sewerage problems etc. and increased diseases and epidemics especially water related ones like diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid, and cholera, and nutrition problems - lack of food as the floods destroy food reserves.
Cholera is one of the main disease outbreaks associated with flooding in the eastern and southern Africa. From January to April 2019 alone, the World Health Organization announced outbreaks in 21 countries with Kenya accounting for 35 percent of the cases reported this year, followed by Mozambique (31 percent).
Cholera is caused by a bacteria called Vibrio cholerae through consuming contaminated food or water. Once in the stomach, the pathogen peels the lining of the stomach, causing diarrhoea that looks like rice water.
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, that is knowledge and capacities of different stakeholders to anticipate, prepare themselves, and respond to an imminent flood risks for efficient flood risk reduction, especially in flood-prone areas.
Usually, communities do not respond to the warnings because of several issues, including denial, memory of flood experience, limited trust in the authorities, low risk awareness or even perceived benefits. It is critical to develop a community-based early warning system that builds on the already established indigenous knowledge among communities and at the same time provide a platform to facilitate timely reporting while creating a sense of ownership and accountability. For this community-based system to work, community members must be involved in risk assessments, monitoring and warning, dissemination and communication. It must be a participatory process that develops an understanding of specific local risk factors to the floods menace. With specific focus on the flood, vulnerable communities, groups, need to be engaged across each community to share their thoughts, reflect upon their needs and identify and design potential solutions which could minimise flood risk and increase preparedness and resilience. Formation of a Community-Based Flood Management Committee and a Village Disaster Prevention and Control Committee plays the important role in empowering community members through participation in planning efforts for disaster preparedness. Based on their skills, experience and areas of interest, committee members will be trained and assigned to work under dedicated sub teams for early warning, search and rescue, evacuation, security, health and relief.
There must be a shift from a reactive to a proactive approach in dealing with flood disasters. It is important to change the mindset and the traditional way of working. Local communities need to be linked to platforms which can allow them to access daily line messages and information about the rainfall and the imminence of flooding.
The community-based flood preparedness and early warning infrastructures and services must also incorporate sustainability and ensure mock drills or simulation exercises are carried out before the onset of the heavy rains.
Communities should trained and provided with toolkits to tackle floods. A promotional calendar containing success stories and timelines for conducting simulation and training exercises should be developed and shared with the communities, emphasising the importance of these activities and reminding communities about the need to have periodic simulation drills.
Communities also need additional investment to mainstream disaster risk reduction into development practices, plans and policies at devolved to the grassroots levels in the localities that are vulnerable to floods.
The author is a social and behaviour change communication consultant. [email protected]