El Niño Lessons from the Past are Back To Haunt Us
The El Niño lessons from the past, are back to haunting again. Months have gone by since the United Nations forecast projection. They projected the incoming of El Niño after a prolonged cooling La Niña weather pattern. The rains are now here with us. With that, the weatherman states that there is a 90% chance that the El Niño rains might last up until the first quarter of 2024. Did we learn from the last El Niño lessons or not?
One might assume that such a warning would spark preparations to avert disasters reminiscent of past heavy downpours. Despite earnest appeals from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) for nations to ready themselves for the deluge, it appears that Kenya may not have taken this matter as seriously as warranted.
A joke! Even after what happened in 1997 during the last intense El Niño ever seen in the country?
We were hoping that things would turn out differently this time, at least that’s what we thought.
Taking you back in time, Between May 1997 and February 1998, Kenya experienced an abnormally prolonged rainfall period.
The heavy rainfall is attributed to the El-Nino weather phenomenon. This nearly 10-month stretch of intense rainfall resulted in widespread landslides and floods in various parts of the country.
The impacts of these landslides, brought on by El Niño, were significant. Specific numerical data regarding the extent of landslide damage is not currently unavailable. Despite that, the loss of human and animal lives, as well as harm to vegetation, was notable. More than 2,000 people died and over 1.2 million animals succumbed to the intensity of the rain. More than 77,000 people were displaced, and another 2,000 people lost their lives.
Fertile agricultural lands and critical transportation infrastructure like roads, railways, and bridges, as well as communication and power lines, suffered substantial disruption and harm. UN reports stated that the road system, which comprises over 100,000 km, needed approximately $51 million to repair the damages.
As for agriculture, coffee production got a hit in 1998 by dropping by 22%. It is obvious that our exports as a country dwindled.
Additionally, heightened surface runoff and exposure led to increased erosion of soil, causing rivers to become heavily laden with sediments.
These sediments subsequently deposited in hydroelectric dams, resulting in blockages and a halt in power generation. The national economic setback was estimated at around US $1 billion by experts, and they anticipated a protracted recovery process.
Now, envision this scenario occurring in the present, where citizens are already struggling. The main struggle is due to a deteriorating economy with a nation struggling with a 6.8% inflation rate. Consider the additional challenge of one more problem.
The combined impact of these compounding issues would likely exacerbate the existing difficulties, potentially leading to even more profound economic and social challenges for the affected population. The capacity to recover from such a complex set of problems would be even more daunting, requiring concerted efforts and resources from various stakeholders.
Who wouldn’t be scared if some horrifying type of thing threatened to come again? Tell me. For a government that prides itself on looking out for its residents, you would expect it to take measures to ensure human and property protection.
The fact that this is something actually budgeted for leaves many questions unanswered.
The government had asserted that it has implemented comprehensive measures to alleviate the impacts of El Niño rains.
There was a stakeholder meeting overseen by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua in September. In the meeting, the government estimated it would need approximately Ksh.10 billion. This amount is necessary to effectively address the consequences of El Niño, particularly in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) regions.
Given such a substantial budget allocation, one would anticipate the implementation of robust strategies to mitigate the adverse effects of rainfall. However, the current situation in ASAL areas, where floods are sweeping away trucks and causing significant disruptions, paints a different picture.
This underscores the inadequacy of drainage and plumbing systems. With that in fault, it places lives at risk and compromises public health. That’s not all, there is an increasing likelihood of lightning-related incidents! This prompts the question: What was the intended purpose of the budget allocation?
Maybe people didn’t realize how serious the rain could be, and they didn’t think it would be as bad as it turned out to be. If we had known it would be different, we could have prepared for it, especially considering how bad the El Niño rains were last time. With our projections, there is a chance that El Niño losses will surpass $3 trillion by 2029. All in all, it’s possible that we’re not as afraid this time, or maybe we’re still getting ready – that’s what we believe.
We find ourselves without much choice. We must trust the responsible government bodies to take proactive measures to avert any significant rain-related issues before it’s too late. Hopefully, they will have everything under control.
Until then, let’s embrace preparedness: reinforce our homes and secure our belongings. While we await government action, let’s prioritize safety. Together, we will weather the storm. Stay vigilant, stay safe, and protect what matters most.