Kenya, like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa has experienced severe drought and flood episodes over the past two decades.
More recently, the country has been experiencing severe floods that have displaced people and destroyed infrastructure and property.
Such natural disasters set in motion a complex chain of events that disrupt livelihoods, the local economy and in severe cases, the national economy.
Floods cause widespread destruction, resulting in the loss of both animal and human life. They cause damage to property and critical public infrastructure such as roads, bridges, schools, health, electricity and water supply, resulting in billions of shillings in economic losses.
Droughts are also harmful for agriculture, especially in rain-fed agricultural systems, and may create problems in water supply.
Costs and losses that stem from emergencies related to droughts and floods are two separate entities.
Losses occur predominantly through destruction of an economy’s wealth — the physical assets that help generate income. Costs arise due to reconstruction to replace, repair or reinforce the assets destroyed by floods.
The 1999-2001 drought for example, was estimated to have affected 4.4 million people, killed nearly 60-70 per cent of livestock in the arid and semi-arid areas and caused crop failure in most parts of the Rift Valley, Coast, Eastern and Central regions of the country.
Similarly, the 2011 drought led to severe food shortages, that affected about 3.75 million Kenyans and had a combined economic impact equivalent to between 0.7-1.0 per cent of GDP. The recent droughts and floods between November 2016-April 2018 are estimated to have affected 3.4 million people.
Impact on gender and children
Different segments of the population are affected differently by natural disasters largely due to asymmetrical power relations based on their gender.
Women have an unequal social, political and economic status in the society, making them most vulnerable to natural disasters. Women and girls are particularly more likely to suffer higher rates of mortality, morbidity and economic damage.
Women also face insurmountable barriers in restoring their livelihoods after drought and flood emergencies.
Given their role in society of ensuring the family gets food, water and other supplies, and the fact that they are engaged in low-wage activities, it further disadvantages them when coping with the impacts of drought and floods.
Natural disasters also tend to hit the poorest and the most marginalised demographics. While everyone living in disaster-prone areas is vulnerable to the impacts of droughts and floods, the poor, children, the elderly and persons living with disabilities are more vulnerable and face a higher risk of death.
It is the role of the institutional and legal framework to plan, implement and monitor the processes of disaster risk management arising from climate hazards.
The framework ensures co-ordination among all stakeholders and integrates disaster risk management efforts into the development of policies and programmes that reduce the people’s level of vulnerability.
Kenya has put in place legislation and relevant institutions to deal with disasters and emergencies, including the National Drought Management Authority and the National Disaster Operations Centre.
The critical thing is to ensure the institutional arrangements and national policies for flood and drought emergency management are effective in managing disaster risks, including the preparedness by various agencies and at different levels of government; national and county.
Role of government and other actors
The management of emergencies arising from droughts and floods can characteristically be organised into five stages: Prevention; protection; preparedness; response and recovery. The response to these emergencies will typically require effective co-ordination among several institutional and non-institutional actors.
While the state has the overall responsibility of reducing disaster risk, managing risks is a shared responsibility between government and relevant stakeholders.
Non-state actors play a key role as enablers in providing support to states, in accordance with national policies, laws and regulations, in the implementation of the risk reduction framework at local, national and regional levels.
Their commitment, goodwill, knowledge, experience and resources contribution is required in disaster management.
Apart from mitigation and transfer strategies that are undertaken before the onset of drought or floods, coping with risks entails those activities undertaken by households thereafter. Coping enables families and communities to deal with the adverse effects of drought/floods.
The coping strategies could be economic, social, cultural or technological in nature. Households threatened by drought and famine deploy a variety of coping strategies progressively as the crisis worsens. These differ depending on the region and local circumstances. Balancing the traditional and modern mechanisms requires enhanced public awareness.
Improving community resilience to floods and droughts requires proactive adaptation and mitigation measures. Many communities are dynamic and respond to changes in environmental factors.
Resilient communities can withstand hazards and continue to operate under stress, adapt, and recover after a crisis while others may not.
Building and maintaining disaster resilience depends on adaptation strategies the community integrates in their mitigation plans. Preparedness is key in improving community resilience to natural disasters.
Kenya is a signatory to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which commits nations to address disaster risk reduction by building resilience to disasters within the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.
The occurrence of droughts and floods in Kenya has often resulted in emergency situations. This necessitates a national discussion/debate with all stakeholders on how to end emergencies related to droughts and floods.
Dr Rose Ngugi is the chief executive of Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (Kippra).