Kenya brings in emergency measures to combat ‘unprecedented’ floods


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Kenya has introduced a series of emergency measures as it battles “unprecedented” floods that have killed more than 200 people and left vast tracts of the east African nation underwater.

“No corner of this country has been spared from this havoc,” President William Ruto said on Friday, after a week of torrential rain overwhelmed the country’s rickety infrastructure, washing away roads and bridges and displacing more than 160,000 people.

Abandoned lorries and cars were submerged in several feet of water outside Nairobi international airport, and people have died in mudslides or been caught in flash floods. Nearly 50 people were killed when the Nakuru dam burst and flooded the surrounding area.

Ruto warned that “we’ve not seen the end” of the rain linked to the El Niño weather pattern, as he predicted it would increase “in duration and intensity for the rest of this month and possibly after”.

He added: “The current unprecedented crisis of floods . . . is a direct consequence of our failure to protect our environment, resulting in the painful effects of climate change we are witnessing today. Our country is poised to remain in this cyclical crisis for a long time unless and until we confront the existential threat of climate change.”

The heavy rain continued on Friday as Ruto’s government launched mass evacuations and freed additional resources to buy food and medicines for flood victims. It warned of a potential further disaster on the coast, which is likely to be struck this weekend by a tropical cyclone.

The government also postponed the opening of schools, and tourists and staff have been evacuated from Kenya’s Maasai Mara game reserve.

The huge damage and loss of life caused by the flooding highlights the challenges of under-resourced governments across Africa that are grappling with the impact of changing weather patterns and rapid urbanisation.

Experts say land-use planning in Kenya is also inadequate and undermined by corruption, as land is sold off to logging companies and developers or settled in by squatters.

Sean Avery, a consultant in hydrology at King’s College London, wrote in The Conversation, an academic website, that Nairobi and other big cities had grown haphazardly and with scant contingency planning.

“A large proportion of [the] urban population lives in tin-roofed slums and informal settlements lacking adequate drainage infrastructure,” he said. “As a result, almost all of the storm rainfall is translated into rapid and sometimes catastrophic flooding.

“The natural state of the land has been altered through settlement, roads, deforestation, livestock grazing and cultivation,” he added.

Ruto has made much of the potential for Kenya to benefit from the transition to a greener global economy, particularly given its geothermal resources that produce much of the country’s electricity.

He has pushed for Kenya to play a big role in carbon offset projects and so-called nature based solutions as well as leading Africa’s push to get more funds from rich countries to help the continent combat climate change.

Many have criticised what they say is a slow response to the flooding emergency, which has followed years of drought.

“The government has been talking big on climate change, yet when the menace comes in full force, we have been caught unprepared,” said Raila Odinga, leader of the opposition.

Residents of the town of Mai Mahiu, in south-west Kenya close to the Nakuru dam, were on Friday still dealing with the aftermath of the flooding, which has devastated their community.

“My home and business were swept away. We do not know where and when we shall be relocated,” said Wangari Thuku, a 47-year-old widow. She sought shelter for herself and her seven children at a local school. “I don’t have anywhere to go but wait for the government’s intervention.”



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