El Niño: Just how prepared are we?

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BY DR CHRIS KIRUBI

For a few months now, the Kenya Meteorological Department has been issuing warnings to Kenyans about experiencing the El Niño rains between October to December (in some counties the rains are forecast to persist until January).

Unfortunately, these warnings have come with backlash and mockery from the public with many citing the warnings as false due to the capricious weather patterns. None of us wish for this disaster and given a choice, we would trade El Niño for our annual short rains that will bear fruit. We must take precaution.

Rains are always a blessing but when it comes to flooding, more often than not the impact may be fatal. We need to look at how destructive the rains will be, disrupting our way of life socially and economically. The advice from the experts cannot afford to fall on deaf ears and we would rather be wise and prepare hastily for El Niño.

But how prepared are we? Are we waiting to spot drizzles so that we begin training ourselves on disaster management?

It is surprising that many of us are prepared psychologically but not practically. Some of you may think that you will not be affected but it is better to be safe than to be sorry. We all need to be practical about our preparedness individually, as family, friends, communities, on a county level and at the national level.

As I was reading one of our dailies this week, I could not help but see thousands already homeless after heavy rains in Garissa, with hundreds of livestock dead. Floods are destructive; I am referring to houses, cars, livestock being swept off, destruction of crops, restricted movement, endless traffic congestion, children hardly accessing schools, disruption of work and business and eventually food shortage and increase of waterborne diseases. Basically, normalcy will be disrupted.

The last time Kenya experienced El Niño in 1997/98 we had fatalities, majority being caused by an outbreak of the Rift Valley Fever.

Can we try our best to prevent fatalities this time? How can we protect ourselves from the outbreak of fever, malaria, cholera and other diseases?

On a personal level, it is important to equip yourself with basic information on disaster management. If you haven’t, please do so and inform as many people as you possibly. My team at Capital FM has set up a Twitter account @ElNinoWatch984 to help you prepare for El Niño. We are constantly sharing alerts and information from experts to the Kenyan people as our civic duty to our nation.

We can help each other by sharing the knowledge and information we have. Let it be your civic duty to help your neighbour, family or loved one during this El Niño period. If politicians can pay the youth to attend a rally then surely these leaders can afford to pay them to build trenches and help the various counties prepare for the coming rains. Let us lend a helping hand where we can.

To our leaders; as you allocate budgets and begin preparing for the rains, it is my prayer that you will not take advantage of this situation and subject us to dubious acts of corruption. The National Government has allocated billions of shillings for disaster management and already accusations of counties cashing in the monies are headlining the news.

All monies must be accounted for and all expenditure made transparent. Our leaders’ both at the national level and county level need to be accountable. Indeed we will hold you accountable for every shilling spent. Do not use the monies meant for a disaster to cause the Kenyan people another disaster.

Nairobi County Council, do your part. You cannot continue blaming the existing drainage system which has been there for quite some time. Prepare effectively knowing that we are expecting heavy rains.

For families living in areas that are prone to landslides, have arrangements been made for their relocation? Giving families Sh4,000 to temporarily relocate for four months as seen in Witemere village in Nyeri is myopic and not suitable in the long term. Can our leaders be serious and plan properly?

As for those who defied warnings and built on marshlands or wetlands, woe unto you; choices have consequences. It is important that we cooperate with the various authorities as we assist our county governments prepare for El Niño.

One thing I will suggest is that we seriously study basic disaster management starting with our schools, homes, workplaces and business. Learn how to take responsibility for yourself and even those around you should something happen or the floods get worse.

I must add that it is the responsibility of each Kenyan to reach out to as many people as you can, including the less fortunate members of our society and those physically challenged. Let us share the knowledge and information so that we prevent misfortunes where we can. An alternative solution would also be to house neighbours and relatives who get affected for the duration of the floods. We can also donate foodstuff and clothing to victims who may be affected by the floods.

Benjamin Franklin once said that by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. Disaster management is what will get us through. What we do before, during and after is what will decide our fate as a country. Be your brother’s keeper. Disaster may try to engulf us but our unity will see us through the worst of circumstances.

Be safe my fellow citizens.

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