WERE: El Niño must give planners sleepless nights

Kenya will be subjected to heavy El Niño rains that will start soon. The government requires Sh15.5 billion to deal with any emergencies arising from the rains but thus far only Sh5 billion and Sh20 million from each county has been set aside for the fund. That leaves a deficit of about Sh10 billion.

However, several international agencies have pledged to support the El Niño mitigation plans and have committed S.5 billion. These funds must be properly used because failure to put in place mitigation and disaster relief measures will have dire economic consequences.

The first way in which El Niño will cause economic problems is through the devastation of infrastructure. The rains earlier this year were not even of the scale expected from El Niño yet they ravaged infrastructure bridges were swept away as roads were flooded.

To understand the scale of this issue, note that the 199798 El Niño episode is estimated to have caused damage worth more than Sh123 billion ($1.2 billion) in Kenya in infrastructure and crop destruction alone.

That damage translates to funds required to do emergency repairs but more importantly collapsed infrastructure becomes non-functioning and prevents individuals from engaging in economically productive activities as they cannot get to and from places of work and business.

Further, damage to infrastructure has a long-term impact, such as damage to sanitation infrastructure and disruptions in communication links, clean water and electricity supply.

The more severe the damage, the longer Kenyans will be unable to conduct business as usual, thereby bringing economic activities to a standstill. This then translates into, at the least, a temporary loss of livelihood for millions of Kenyans.

Secondly, is the damage to property that the rains will have on land, houses, businesses, offices, and vehicles.

Economically productive assets worth billions in the agriculture, services or industry sectors are likely to be damaged and the spillover effects on the loss of livelihoods will be felt in commercial activities even in adjacent non-flooded areas.

Thirdly, is the physical dislocation that many will experience as they are forced to leave their homes, businesses and places of work. Kenyans will be unable to be economically productive and this will dampen the economic growth of not only the affected areas, but the country as a whole.

Food production

Fourthly, is the impact on agricultural activities in the destruction of crops and loss of livestock. This will make Kenya more food insecure, exacerbated by the chances that the heavy El Niño rains will be followed by a long period of drought.

There are, therefore, likely to be long-term consequences on food production activities, leading to losses of income by farmers.

But more importantly, the impact on food production will put millions of Kenyans at higher risk of being food insecure, which will aersely affect their economic productivity.

El Niño will also have health care implications as there is likely to be a deterioration in health conditions due to waterborne diseases which cause illness and even death.

The last rains earlier this year caused cholera outbreaks across the country will this be repeated with El Niño? Once more, disease-ridden Kenyans cannot be economically productive.

Finally, the high cost of relief means that money has to be diverted away from development — or bolstering economic activities — into disaster preparation and mitigation.

Clearly the impact of El Niño will be felt by the people and economy. Thus, the El Niño Fund and support from international partners is crucial to ensure that the rains are managed to limit any negative impacts to the greatest extent possible.

Were is a development economist email: anzetsew@gmail.com.