The periodic flooding of River Nyando has been disrupting the lives of area residents ranging from loss of life to loss of livestock and property every rainy season.
Resident have a popular saying: “If you want to know when River Nyando has broken its banks, tune in to the news for the day it claims a life,” the locals can bet their life on it as it has never failed to happen.
Many Kenyans recall Jane Anyango Adika of the ‘Serikali Saidia’ fame whose plaintive and mournful plea epitomized the tragedy that befell the area residents every time the heavens released a major downpour.
Her plea that was aired in many local television and radio channel brought laughter in many households across the nation, in spite of the fact that a tragedy that had been replicated years on end among her people.
During 2015’s El Nino rains, things were completely different, by design through a series of intentionally coordinated framework of activities that changed the game in a way one would say “shocked the floods”; this came as a reprieve to residents, if a bit unnerving.
The Meteorological Department gave early and consistent weather forecasts that informed the country to prepare for the impending El Nino disaster; they did not stop there but also rolled out an unprecedented awareness and sensitization campaign not only through the media but also in public forums; sometimes against fierce criticism.
A classic example of this resistance was manifested during a stakeholders’ forum in Nyando when Kisumu International Airport Meteorological Officer Mr. Joseph Awuonda, was subjected to a barrage of questions from some participants who doubted the credibility of the El Nino Rains’ forecasts, claiming that the department had missed the mark on several occasions in the past.
But perhaps the other aspect where it can be said that a landmark progress was registered and that may have also been influenced by the meteorological department, was the evidently clear break from the past in instituting practical intervention measures by the county government.
Alarmed by the imminent danger, the County Government of Kisumu is implementing measures intended to mitigate the impact of the floods, including desilting the river and using the harvested sand to reinforce the embankments, erecting bridges and unclogging the drains among other measures.
“Perhaps this was the single most significant step that experts say thwarted the river from causing serious havoc even after breaking its bank at the height of the El Nino rains,” observes Mr. Erick Odida, who is the Kisumu County Disaster Committee Chair.
Odida appeals to the National Government to assist with further funds to help complete the remaining phases of sustainable mitigation measures.
But it must not be lost that all these would have amounted to zero without the invaluable input of various key players.
“It was round the clock surveillance especially across the danger spots and we did not wait for things to get out of hand as we had to act at the slightest hint of danger; I rolled my sleeves and personally coordinated timely evacuation of those in danger,” notes Muhoroni Deputy County Commissioner, Mr. Solomon Abwaku.
The DCC is, however, quick to note that his work would have been without doubt near impossible without the support of critical partners including the Kenya Red Cross Society who provided means of access such as boats and other necessities including food, blankets and utensils that helped prevent further catastrophe.
According to Nyando Sub County Public Health officer Mr. Nicholas Makotsi, the floods also lost on another front as no diarrhoea cases were diagnosed this time round unlike in the past.
The officer attributes this to a multi-pronged approach ranging from community sanitation empowerment programmes to high prevalence of toilet facilities in the sub county coupled with heightened surveillance and distribution of chlorine and water storage cans.
“It’s not the sanitation provisions that we give to the residents; it’s about empowering the residents to understand the chain cycle of the consequence of their actions especially in matters of public health so that they can be managers of their own health challenges,” explains Makotsi.
And what used to be a bane has turned into a blessing in disguise as residents deiced to ‘use the lemons they were handed to make lemonade’. Residents adopted a blend of farming including indigenous vegetables, yams, sukuma wiki, cabbages, rice and even maize farming among other crops.
“At a time like this, especially on the eve of rains, most of us would still be held up in camps but we can see that the government has this time round done a good job, it has taken us the shortest time to return to our homes but on top of it, we are reaping from the various farming activities,” says Thomas Keya who owns a farm along the River bank.
The farmers are lauding the efforts by the government towards alleviating their suffering and most believe that devastating calamities facing the nation including similar crisis would be averted if the government adopted similar strategies as that which broke the jinx of the Nyando floods.
By Milton Onyango