On Wednesday April 6, Kenyan officials announced the flooding disaster that has killed nearly 200 people, displaced 100,000 and strained critical infrastructure in the country.
The rise in water level at Masinga and Turkwel dam has forced villagers to evacuate the vicinity due to the flooding. The floods and landslides have been concentrated in western Kenya and have so far killed 194 people.
Eugene Wamalwa, the minister in charge of relations between the regional leadership and the national government, said the country had lost 30 people in a matter of 24 hours on Tuesday.
Residents in the Budalangi community have had to carry their belongings away from their submerged houses using boats and motorbikes, after the River Nzoia burst its banks, spilling over the land for miles around.
As Masinga also feeds into several other dams, officials advised people living near those downstream reservoirs to evacuate. The two dams, Masinga and Turkwel, have a combined installed electricity generation capacity of 140 MW, which represent 6 percent of Kenya’s total installed capacity.
The floods have also destroyed 8,000 acres of rice fields adding to the country’s looming rice shortage due to shipping disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
Kenya’s Meteorological Department most recent forecast shows that heavy rains which accelerated in mid-April, is expected to continue in already hard-hit areas in the coming weeks till the end of May which usually marks the end of the rainy season.
Government spokesman Cyrus Oguna, said on Twitter that, “over the past three weeks, floods had displaced 100,000 people complicating efforts to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed 24 people in the country.”
The government is providing food and water to the displaced people and have also requested the Health Ministry to provide them with masks as a precautionary measure.
In Uganda, the major water bodies including lakes Victoria (in the central region), Albert (western) and Kyoga (eastern), and several rivers, have spilled their excess water into the surrounding areas, displacing thousands of people.
Last week, at least 400 families were displaced, and their properties destroyed. So far, five people have died in Kamwenge and Isingiro districts as a result of the floods.
However, environmental experts have weighed in on the causes of the floods and offered solutions on what ought to be done to restrain them.
According to Uganda’s western region National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) coordinator, Mr Jeconious Musingwire, degradation of the catchments, especially around mountain slopes and river banks can be seen as the major causes of the floods.
“When it rains, the bare steep slopes cannot retain the runoff and water goes into the gentle slopes, where it cannot be retained because of poor agricultural practices. It is never retained in the lower land too because they used to be occupied by wetlands, and those wetlands have been degraded,” he explained.
Dams in the region burst their banks due to the free flow of water on the mountain slopes as a result of poor agricultural practices. Uncontrolled human activities and the glaciers on the Mounts are melting more rapidly due to climate change, thereby releasing more water to the streams.
Ms Rose Nakyejwe, attributed the current floods to people building in protected zones around the lakes. According to her, people have been warned against building too close to the lakes to avoid such incidents but they have not been heeding to the calls.
With the number of displaced persons rising in these African countries, curbing the spread of the virus becomes complicated and difficult. The social distancing rule would be broken, and there could be a massive rise in COVID-19 persons if a displaced person gets infected.
The government needs to ensure that testing is done before these individuals are relocated to the camps to avoid the spread. Also, the government needs to prevent congestion of the camps and maintain the habits of hand washing.
This has to be of top priority, and negligence on the part of the government could result in a rise in COVID-19 cases which might lead to a further lockdown and economic implications.