Saturday March 24, 2018
By Anne Kiruku
East African News Agency, Arusha
As was expected, heavy rains have pounded most parts of the region. This has come after a prolonged dry spell, leading to destructive floods that have wrought havoc and brought death and tears.
At least 15 people have died and scores of others injured in Kenya alone, with property worth thousands of dollars destroyed.
Vehicles have been destroyed after trees fell on them, schoolchildren have drowned on their way to school, bridges have been washed away, and buildings constructed on riparian land have sunk.
In their wake, the rains have left an unmistakable trail of destruction. Sadly, floods are not unexpected. They can and have been forecast.
In fact, the region has an established guideline under the Disaster Risk Reduction Comprehensive Policy Frameworks.
It has also enacted several laws on the matter and formed Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Platforms that guide interventions in the management of disasters.
The EAC region has also developed DRR institutions and instruments, including the EAC DRR Strategy.
In fact, the EAC Disaster Risk Reduction Management (DRRM) Act was recently passed by EALA. The Act has provisions for a DRRM Board, the DRRM Authority and the DRRM Fund.
As recently as last year, on October 13, the EAC joined the rest of the world in celebrating the International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR).
Four months down the line, the region has been rocked by a level of destruction that has left citizens with tears, deaths, and questions begging for answers.
The institutions put forth to mitigate, prevent and instill a culture of disaster reduction are once again in the spotlight.
As long as lives will continue to be lost and properties destroyed, all those laws and documented mitigation guidelines are useless.
It is unfortunate that in fully functioning governments, the construction of buildings – both residential and commercial – on riparian land has been allowed and continues unabated.
It is only in corrupt countries where buildings can be constructed on riparian land.
The collapse of buildings due to heavy rains clearly shows negligence and poor workmanship in their construction. The fingers are all pointed at corrupt and negligent government officials.
Cases of bridges being swept away by raging floods and others collapsing further shows just how reckless the building and construction monitoring units in the region are.
The greatest undoing to safe management of floods is the lack of a proper drainage system. This weakness afflicts most towns across the region.
Emergency funds are then used to deal with emerging issues arising from flash floods. Providing food, clothing and other donations to those affected by floods while relocating them to safer grounds is hypocritical when done year after year.
Proper planning and investment in drainage systems is critical if the problem is to be dealt with once and for all.
Unfortunately corruption has ensured that encroachment of road reserves and drainage ways is the order of the day.
Hardly are there road reserves or a drainage ways that have not been grabbed and permanent buildings erected. The land grabbers happen to be well-connected individuals who act in concert with government officials.
As a result, such building cannot be demolished and this further complicates the plans to have a functional drainage system.
Poor waste management has also interfered with drainage systems. Indiscriminate dumping of solid waste onto drainage systems is the cause of their frequent blockage.
Unfortunately, most towns across the region have no proper mechanisms of collection and disposal of solid waste, leaving residents with little choice than to turn every corner into a dumping site.
The regional partner states should emulate Rwanda, which secured an $85.7 million loan to construct a central drainage system.
It has introduced a fee for liquid waste collection as it moves to improve sanitation by investing in a new central sewage system.
For the vicious circle of trails of deaths and destruction from natural calamities to end, partner states must raise awareness and create a culture of disaster reduction – including disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness – in the region.
The partner states must promote best practices at regional level and across all sectors to reduce disasters, with particular focus on reducing the numbers of people at risk and disaster losses.
Going by the 2017 International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) theme: “Home safe home… a home saved is a family saved from displacement, poverty, injury and ill health,” the region should endeavour to protect all citizens from calamities.