Pounding rains over the last two months have set off catastrophic flooding of biblical proportions, surging over the weekend into some 20 of the 47 Kenyan counties bordering Lake Victoria – a massive trans-boundary body of water shared by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Some 23 rivers empty water into the lake.
“These floods are the worst to hit the country since 1997 when heavy rains linked to the El Niño phenomenon killed more than 80 people in 24 hours”, said Abbas Gullet, Secretary General of the Kenya Red Cross after viewing the disaster area.
Hundreds have been displaced and farmland is underwater, ruining prospects for food self-sufficiency.
For decades, scientists have warned of the impact of human activities and climate variability causing unusual levels of rainfall.
“Loss of forest cover, encroachment on wetlands, lakeshores and river banks including poor land use practices, have resulted in soil erosion leading to siltation of our water bodies,” Uganda’s water and environment minister, Sam Cheptoris, said. “This has resulted in the rapid movement of water into the lakes and rivers with a lot of silt, which reduced water storage capacities of our water bodies.”
“The level is going up. We cannot stop the water,” warned Dr. Callist Tindimugaya, Ugandan commissioner for water resources planning. “Move to other areas if you are near the shores. Because water levels will increase as we release the water (from the Nalubaale Power Station) in Jinja.”
“People have built all around the lake because the level had gone down previously,” he continued. “People encroached on the protection zone… The water is coming back to reclaim its position.”
“It is eroding shorelines, altering ecosystems and causing flooding and economic damage,” Raphael Kapiyo, an environmental scientist in Kenya, told the Standard Media.
There is special concern about villages and towns near the Tana River where three hydroelectric dams could be topped over by water running down from Mount Kenya.
Waterfront properties, luxury hotels and a Protea Hotel, part of Marriott International, have also been submerged in the last few weeks.
Leonard Ogolla, a village elder, is still counting losses incurred from the flooding.
“Everything I owned, including my house, has been swept away. We are hoping that we can get some help to get back on our feet,” he said.
Kenya’s meteorological department has warned the rains could continue for the next two months.
SOURCE: Global Information Network