Kenya: The other effects of the floods
By Angela Oketch
News of floods, deaths and devastation: This is the new normal in the country for the past several weeks. Unfortunately, the latest prediction by the weatherman should make every Kenyan flinch. Reportedly there is no end in sight of the torrents and the heavy rain pounding the country. Extreme weather events such as droughts and floods are amid the immediate impacts of climate change. A report released by the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis last year revealed that droughts and floods between November 2016 and April 2018 are estimated to have affected over 3.4 million people and cost the government over Sh20 billion.
The eventual cost of this year’s flooding is set to surpass this. The Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) already issued an alert that rains will be experienced up and until the end of the year; Christmas will certainly be wet. Before the short rain season began in October, KMD issued a forecast that indicated that the country would have enhanced October- November- December (OND) rainfall. Probably, a few people took the forecast seriously while the majority may have applied the ‘wait and see’ approach as is the norm. As the rain continues to pour relentlessly, numerous Kenyans may still be wondering why the heavy rainfall. According to experts, the warming up of the Indian Ocean off the Kenyan coast (Western Indian Ocean) is causing the torrential downpour.
During an interview with Healthy Nation, principal meteorologist at KMD Ms Patricia Nying’ uro said Kenya is experiencing Indian Nino or the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). The IOD occurs when seawater temperatures increase on the surface of the Indian Ocean, off the Kenyan coast, she said. Due to the high temperatures, a lot of water evaporation occurs, and as the vapour rises to the sky, it cools and condenses (becomes heavy), forms clouds and rains in the adjacent areas. Scientifically, this is known as conventional rainfall; she explained, “We have been having a positive IOD from October,” she said. When the Indian Ocean is warm on the Kenyan coast, the opposite happens on the eastern side of the ocean where cooling results to drought on the Indian subcontinent and other areas east of the ocean like Australia. However, when the cooling is taking place off the western Indian Ocean (off Kenyan Coast), drought is experienced in Kenya and the Horn of Africa. Additionally, the rain-bearing low-pressure belt — Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) is squarely sitting on Kenya, said Ms Nying’ uro. Coupled with a positive IOD, the ITCZ brings heavy rainfall to Kenya. ITCZ determines seasons in the tropics where Kenya is situated.
While Kenyans strive to understand what is happening, they may be staring at other crises. Studies done on the aftermath of floods reveal that its impact is felt years after in the form of the cost of destruction of infrastructure, loss of life, homes, livelihoods and disease outbreaks. Health effects often related to floods are gastrointestinal and respiratory infections.