Kenya – After Spring Floods, Nairobi Moves to Cut Disaster Risks

NAIROBI, June 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When heavy rains hit Kenya’s capital in March, Penina Mueni’s three sewing machines went underwater.

The tailor, who repairs clothes in southern Nairobi’s Makuru kwa Reuben slum, hadn’t had problems with flooding earlier. But as climate change brings more intense rains, it is threatening her business.

“Right now I don’t know how I will get money to repair the machines. My garment materials are completely spoiled. It’s a huge loss I have never (before) incurred in my life,” said Mueni, 40, pointing to the sodden mess that was her shop.

Wilder weather is bringing flooding and other threats to many of Africa’s cities, with Nairobi, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Somalia’s capital Mogadishu all experiencing flooding this spring.

But poor urban planning is as much a risk as climate change, said Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, the regional director of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

“Increasing population and poor urban planning is a problem. If we only had well-planned cities we would’t experience problems like this,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

UNEP estimates that worsening flooding is costing sub-Saharan Africa 1.4 percent of its GDP each year, with the costs of adapting to the changes running at 3 percent of GDP.

Venant Ndighila, an emergency response manager for Kenya’s Red Cross, said that flash flooding in March this year took a heavy toll on roads and other infrastructure.

Floods in Kenya, May 2018. Photo: Kenya Red Cross Society

“Due to early prediction by the Kenya Meteorological Department, we had planned for these floods,” he said. But this year floods reached areas where they had not before, including in 13 of 25 Kenyan counties, he said.

The floods left roads and bridges submerged in some areas and schools flooded, as well as covering at least 8,450 acres of farmland and killing more than 6,000 livestock, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Robert Masese, director of secondary and tertiary education for the Ministry of Education, said in April that more money needed to be invested in disaster preparedness.

“It has been estimated that a dollar invested in disaster risk reduction can save two to 10 dollars in disaster response and recovery cost,” he said.

To deal with the worsening flood threat, Nairobi County in March set aside 194 million Kenyan shillings ($1.9 million) to improve drainage and deal with worsening flooding problems, said Mohamed Dagane, roads and infrastructure executive for the county.

He told reporters the county government has come up with a plan to address flash flooding threats, in part through measures such as mapping flood-prone areas and improving response time to clear blocked drains in those areas.

Kenya’s National Environmental Management Authority also said in a press statement it had begun closing businesses that had encroached on the Nairobi River, which runs through the city.

Government cabinet officials also last month approved a National Disaster Risk Management policy that aims to boost investment in disaster research and efforts to reduce Kenya’s vulnerability to hazards, including droughts and flooding.

Reporting by Wesley Langat, editing by Laurie Goering, for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters.