Time to deal with avoidable tragedies

Kenya's landscape, which is largely flat with scattered hills, predisposes it to many natural disasters like floods. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

By October 30 this year, the Kenya Red Cross Society reported that the recent rains had affected more than 101,000 people mainly in the north-eastern, central, and coastal regions.

More than 14,000 people living in low-lying areas where the rivers burst their banks have been displaced and at least 30 people have died. It is predicted that more people will be affected before the rains subside.

In Turkana, one of the most affected counties, 2,000 households were displaced, four people lost their lives and thousands of livestock died. This follows the tragedy of the last 12 months when the county experienced drought, causing drought and hunger.

The county’s landscape, which is largely flat with scattered hills, predisposes it to many natural disasters like floods. Successive erosion cycles have left parts of the land with bare soils and others with sandy and alluvial soils and in most parts, very little vegetation.

Several countries have managed to ward off natural disasters and created value from low-lying or arid lands similar to many regions in Kenya that often suffer from floods and or drought.


Much of the Netherlands is below sea level but they manage to control water even in periods with high risk of flash floods.

Israel, which is virtually a desert, is able to export fruits to Kenya. There isn’t any reason why we tolerate these tragedies in the age of data where we can predict the future and avoid them.

Indeed, the Meteorological Department had predicted both rains and drought but messaging the people who needed it most was not done. One hopes that somewhere there is someone accountable who will take responsibility for these calamities.

Although we have multiple representation and governments whose responsibility is to protect the citizens, there isn’t anyone standing up for the people.

If it only happened once, we can forgive but when it becomes a frequent ccurrence then something is seriously wrong with our leadership from the national to the county levels that must be addressed.

There is wisdom in using a different lens to solve these endemic problems. In my view, we could turn these problems into an opportunity. The low-lying regions like Turkana require a network of canals, dams and reservoirs.

Once trapped, the water can be used for irrigation and to sustain livestock in times of drought. Coastal regions, for example, have a severe water shortage and can benefit from reservoirs of rainwater. There are many other benefits that accrue from effective management of water resources including low disease burden.

We compromise our economic development when we fail to invest in common infrastructure to empower each and every citizen.

In many parts of the country where there is water scarcity, the rich often build their own bore holes from which water can be distributed to the less fortunate in order to provide for everybody and mitigate against inequality. In most cases, it doesn’t happen as the poor trek for miles in search of water. It is selfishness and inequality that precipitates non-accountability to the predicament of the general public. Meanwhile, there is need to at least try building a culture of accountability and leveraging data to predict the future.

Predictive analytics does not challenge the will of God’s authority. It must be seen from the point of view that He has given us the power and knowledge to deal with our problems. That we must not leave everything to fate. Instead, we must educate the citizens that we can mitigate against many of the disasters we face.

As we gear up for the coming constitutional amendment, we must seek to inculcate performance measurements in the constitution. This perhaps will deal with one of the things that we have failed – accountability – and seek to create a framework for building accountable leaders. In this, we should have measurable expectations of each leader we elect and regularly review and inform them of their deficiencies. Those who fall below a given threshold should be barred from running for an elective post.

Henry David Thoreau said, “It is what a man thinks of himself that really determines his fate.”

Our dalliance with fatalism gives us non accountable leadership that has failed to see the urgency to deal with avoidable tragedies in Africa.