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The Telescope

Kenya’s Disaster Preparedness Failed Kenyans At Hour Of Need

Recently a dam in Solai broke its walls generating a huge disaster. Surging waters swept through an area measuring 10 km, destroying lives and property on its paths. This disaster could have been avoided.

Politicians most notably former Subukia Mp Koigi Wamwere had forewarned about the looming tragedy but institutions charged with the responsibility of adjudicating complaints raised by the public turned a blind eye to the imminent disaster which retrospectively exposes a long trail of systematic failures and a dose of acute and quite frankly deliberate human error in Kenya’s disaster management.

That incident among several others that have occurred in the country uncovered a system that has notoriously fractionated responsibilities across multiple layers of government leaving it ham-fisted to respond when tragedy strikes.

Be it as it may, it is shocking to realize that Kenya potentially boasts of deep linkages in preparedness and international processes while responding to disasters.

Rescue efforts after the Solai Dam tragedy

Rescue efforts after the Solai Dam tragedy

Kenya has participated in both the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015) and Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030), and was indeed among the first countries to sign up to the Africa Risk Capacity (ARC) – and makes the highest premium contribution in Africa in building resilience to disasters. Locally, there is a national policy that relevant ministries are required to allocate funds to respond to disasters.

In spite of this judicious measures there seems to be a grey area in how these resources interact while they trickle down from the top brass to their engagement at the grassroots level. Notably, coordination is primarily a worrying drift in and beyond disaster management in different functions of the government in the evolving relationship between county and national government.

With proper use of these funds national and county government officials across the country should benefit from knowledge strengthening on: disaster and resilience measurement, climate change dynamics, modelling, disaster response triggers, and thresholds and Kenyans should ultimately be benefactors to seamless policy implementation.

In summary, Kenya’s capacity to prepare and respond to disasters is not a data or information challenge; there are several sources of data, which could be joined up to improve decision-making and service delivery. In actual fact, Kenya is ahead of the other East African countries in regards to technology, data and information, and systems but what is lacking is the culture of preparedness, across and beyond key national functions and that should be dispirited.

The Telescope

Kenya is far from ready to handle major disaster


Lately national conversations have been suffused with concerns about Kenya’s disaster preparedness. Is the universe telling us something? I sure hope not!

Disaster preparation is no doubt a sensitive topic for many of us. Nobody wants to feel like a ‘Chicken Little’ living under a cloud of “something might happen.”

But this is the reality and having had friends who were directly impacted by tragedies such as terrorist attacks, fires and many other natural and artificial disasters in areas where no one thought were susceptible I think it is about time we handle the matter more seriously.

Undeniably, Kenya is far from being effectively equipped to respond to the variety of emergencies and disasters that are likely to occur and which have indeed occurred in the past. What is more, its top leadership is patently far from being sufficiently sensitized and alive to the natural and human-caused dangers that are essentially waiting to happen.

Ordinarily, the government should be both the first-order mitigator and responder when disaster strikes, but its leadership is apathetic and in effect, disinterested except in the opportunities for media attention .

Moreover, the National Disaster Operations Centre (NDOC) remains technically asleep. This has left the Kenya Red Cross Society as the de facto and much-respected “government” in disaster-response situations all across the country.111007_MZB_CVM01

I found myself agreeing with Raila Odinga’s sentiments over the Garissa University College attack last month: “We cannot have Air Force planes which only fly over Nyayo National Stadium during public holidays and when our children are being massacred in Garissa they are nowhere,” he said.

In Nepal more than 4000 people to lost their lives in the wake of a  powerful earthquake with a 7.8 magnitude. This disaster rekindles memories of tremors that hit Nairobi, Central, Eastern, Rift Valley, and Coast  following volcanic activity on Ol Donyo Lengai, near Lake Natron, Tanzania, in 2007.

At the time, concerns were raised over the possible damage and massive loss of life should a major quake hit  the country. And two months ago, a report revealed that 75 percent of buildings in Nairobi could not withstand a quake.

Evidently, two years shy of a decade later , a little has changed since the tremors.And God forbid, if an earthquake similar to that of Nepal hit Nairobi, the after effects would be unthinkable.

Disaster management is essential to address eventualities in society.

This article was published on May 2 2015 on the People Daily Newspaper.