For decades, Tana River County has suffered perennial calamities that have affected livelihoods. The county has experienced floods-driven fatalities at unprecedented rates as a result of increasing climate change.
The lower parts, which cover great lengths of the county, are prone to floods that have perennially destroyed infrastructure, leaving a trail of losses now estimated at about Ksh2 billion.
In a year, the county administration uses nearly Ksh500 million of its budget to manage such disasters.
With a population of more than 370,000, an estimated 100,000 people get affected whenever a climatic calamity hits. This is a big proportion. It is estimated that each disaster reduces the economic stability of affected households by more than 60 percent, relegating at least 2,000 more homes to survive on less than a dollar a day.
Ordinarily, the floods result in loss of businesses, crops, livestock, and lives, and lead to the emergence of diseases that require money to treat. Hence, the recovery after a calamity is never absolute.
Following this reality, the county government came up with the eco-villages plan, embedded within its urbanisation plan.
Tana River Governor Dhadho Godhana, says Eco-Villages, also known as the Cluster Programme, are the solution to perennial disasters.
The Eco-Villages concept seeks to resettle more than 60,000 people from flood-prone areas to modern village clusters, which will comprise well-planned housing, food production and industrial areas.
“This is a human-scale, full-featured settlement in which human activities are well integrated in a way that is supportive of healthy human development,” says the Governor.
He notes that the ultimate goal of the Eco-Villages programme is to eradicate poverty and ensure the integration of all basic human needs.
The Eco-Villages, the Tana River Governor further says, will be put up using locally sourced materials. The concept will create green buildings, sustainable infrastructure and technology, and focus on restoring and protecting the natural environment.
To kick off the plan, the county government has identified more than 18 villages to be moved from the wetlands to the higher grounds. Also, two pilot clusters are being developed as the administration seeks funding to make the first 14 Eco-Villages a reality.
“This project is costly. Our budget alone cannot sustain it, and that is why we are welcoming partners to take part in the great idea,” says Governor Godhana.
In the planned Handampia cluster, a pilot eco-village, the county government has started developing access roads, water supply systems, and small irrigation schemes. The county government has built an administrative office in the cluster and continues to connect the area to electricity and invite mobile networks.
Largely, there are plans to drill 15 boreholes in the piloted 14 villages. For this purpose, the county government has allocated Ksh150 million in its budget.
“We want our partners and other like-minded organisations to see the idea from a material perspective. That way, they will see the bigger picture we have in mind,” says Governor Godhana in relation to the pilot cluster.
Other targeted projects for the Eco-Villages include the establishment of village centres, fabricated hospitals, schools for early childhood education, and administrative offices.
Tana River Lands and Physical Planning Executive Mwanajuma Hiribae notes that the project is the only way out from perennial disasters. She says that in the Eco-Villages, safety and economic growth have been prioritised, hence the need for locals to embrace the idea.
“We are addressing food insecurity and inspiring organic farming. We are telling them that they won’t have to migrate every time we experience long rains, but instead, the rains will be to their advantage in the Eco-Villages,” she says.
Ms Hiribae adds that the idea will strengthen ethnic cohesion. She says that with all factors of production defined in the Eco-Villages, pastoralist communities will be able to participate in production by investing in the propagation of fodder.
“The eco-villages are the way to go. Settling more than 10,000 households in less than five years will save this county nearly five billion shillings, which can be used in developing other amenities,” she says.
She notes that upon completion, the eco-villages will have 14 village centres. Each of the 14 villages will have a dispensary, an open-air market, and a perfect disaster management plan.
Also in place will be an improved security system, reliable supply of clean and safe water in respective villages, improved livestock production, enhanced fish farming, and clean energy.
A number of partners have applauded the county administration for the strides it is taking in dealing with natural disasters. Among them is the Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani (JKP) secretariat, which has adopted the Eco-Villages concept as one of the region’s flagship projects. JKP Chief Executive Officer Emmanuel Nzai, acknowledges that the idea as one of the best-thought solutions to perennial weather-driven disasters.
“This project carries much potential, and based on our assessment, we have adopted it in our JKP plan and shall help the county administration in pushing for its funding as a regional project,” he says.
He notes that the project is key to a successful urbanisation programme as it has outlined the areas for farming, pastoralists activities, and industrial development in line with land use laws, hence its potential to settle scores on the feuds over resources in the county.
Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga is on record for having drummed up support for the project, terming it an idea worth investing in.
In a tour around the region, Raila Odinga appealed to the National Government to fully fund the project as a pilot example to other regions in the country that face similar circumstances.
The current regime of the Tana River County Government is upbeat that the idea will become a reality and of great significance to the residents, and urges successive leaders to sustain it.