El-Nino is Coming : Is Kenya Ready?

Published on 14th August 2009

Despite all the debates, blame games, scoring political points and charcoal burning that goes unabated in the Mau escarpment, one phenomenon heading straight for Kenya (leaders are completely oblivious to it ) is about to go unnoticed.

In 1997-1998, Kenya was like before, and will again, be lined up later this year along the potentially treacherous path of El-Nino. What is it? Who does it attack, when does it attack, and most importantly, how can we harness its energies? First described by the Norwegian Aall Bonnevie Bjerknes family in the 1960s, modern weather simulating software can now, with accuracy, determine the cyclical nature of this beast. According to meteorologists, El-Nino has been in hibernation for a long period and only in the recent past (with changing global weather patterns) has it been waking from its slumber more regularly.

Unfortunately for the tropical regions, the countries on the equator are most affected.Regions in its devouring path at best get away with torrential rainfalls. Kenya ought  to be on high alert! Although Ayub Shaka (Assistant Director in charge of Media and Weather Services) has pinned his hopes on a less aggressive monster, an educated guess will tell you that with the rage inflicted on many micro-climatic regions akin to the Mau escarpment, we are sure not to see this beast in a docile state.

So what can we do? Those in the 'house of God' will be on their knees no doubt; those able to get on aeroplanes will be heading for Europe with begging baskets branded disaster in all shades of the color red; and the common man will most likely be the one to be swept away with the torrential rains, not if, but rather, when they come (4 months away). I sure hope the military will be at hand, again, to fish us out!

It is about time there is a sense of meaning to the work that is done by certain people in authority and/or power. The Infrastructure, Planning, and/or the Disaster Management units amongst others within the Government of Kenya are the usual suspects who should prove why they get a big chunk of taxpayer’s monies. Below are a couple of pointers we should be thinking about:

To begin with, filthy towns and centers in all municipalities can start to remove blocked drains, sink holes and water drainage systems (which are already there) such that rain water will not stand still, but will be drained away into streams and rivers. This has three positive “domino” effects, (a) it will clean the cities and towns (b) it will reduce waters that are standing still not only destroying infrastructure, but also creating a potential disease hazard (think of cholera and bilharzia, among others) and (c) the water will clean the actual rivers and flush the dirty/sewage contaminated/blocked waterways. Take for example the benefits Nairobi River will have in having a new lease of life being injected into it...

Secondly, since many dams are currently being shut down because of low water levels, the silt and mud collected in dams can at this juncture be removed and thereby create a larger area for water collection. In turn, repairs on water catchment utilities must be completed on time in order to make sure that nothing less than the maximum amount of water is captured for future use. This can be the beginning of a cycle where only seasonal rains are necessary to top up lower water levels. If Kariba dam can do it on an annual basis, why can't small dams along the Tana river follow suit?

Thirdly, the areas affected by deforestation can be replanted ahead of time with mainly trees and shrubs and use the rainfall to help the vegetation root and start establishing itself. The idea here is to use the freely available water that will rain when the heavens open up in the not too distant future (only 4 months to go).

Finally, let us not be foolish as Kenyans! Low flood plains particularly in the lake basin areas around Ahero in Kisumu and the dykes in Budalangi in Western Kenya along the Nzoia river will obviously be flooding. We can either stay put and hope not to be washed away, or we can prepare to capture the silt rich water and have a bumper crop early next year. The Egyptians have been using flooded plains to plant their new crops with no added fertilizer since the time of the Pharos and King Tutankhamen. Egypt has never declared a food shortage in living memory! 

Some of these decisions need to be taken by leaders who will no doubt be heading to the Northern hemisphere with begging baskets embarrassing Kenyans (and obviously Obama) because of poor planning. The opportunity is there, lets use the free rain that comes from the heavens above. Even God may not forgive us for not using the same brains He gave us.

By Isaac Ang’Ang’A Choge,
Director: Epidemiology
KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Department of Health, South Africa.

Written in his personal capacity as a Kenyan who looks at the beloved country and wonders: where did we wrong God?!

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