El Niño is a global periodic climatic phenomenon occurring when waters of the Eastern tropic pacific warm, resulting to changes in the global weather. Hence a disruption of weather patterns is experienced in the tropics and world-wide extremes in climatic conditions such as floods; droughts and tropical cyclones. Reports indicate that 2015 El Niño is likely to be the worst in 30 years and might exacerbate current food and nutrition challenges. East African nations that are likely to be affected include: Kenya, parts of Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Somalia where severe flooding will be experienced while other areas may experience drought. In Ethiopia reports indicate that 8.2 million people are in need of relief assistance due to El Niño.
The region was worst hit by the 1997/8 El Niño which left 2000 people dead and also triggered widespread animal disease outbreak leading to a long ban on livestock exports. Kenya experienced infrastructure damage worth $ 670 million. The world meteorological organisation noted that the 2015- 2016 El Niño will probably be the strongest since the 1997/ 8 one. The UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs urges for urgent vaccination of livestock, water and sanitation interventions within flood-prone areas of the region and early preparedness to mitigate its impacts.
The Kenyan government and other East African countries have released an advisory on the development of El Niño noting that it is likely to commence in October until December and could extend to the usually dry months of January and February. Kenyans residing in areas prone to floods and mudslides have been advised to move to safer grounds.
National Disaster Operations Centre (NDOC) note that that El Niño has started in some areas like Meru and predicts that most parts of the country will start experiencing high rains by the end of the week as forecasted by the Meteorological Department. Western region, Nandi Hills, Lower Tana, and Central Kenya (Murang’a) are likely to experience flooding and mudslides. The Northern parts of the country around Garissa, Lower Tana, Budalangi in Western Kenya and Kano plains in Nyanza are likely to experience flooding. Nandi areas, Kisii and Kakamega may experience heavy storms accompanied by lightning.
The transport sector is also likely to be affected with muddy and slippery roads in most parts of the country while swelling of streams may cause water to overflow over bridges. Drivers should therefore take precaution to avert accidents. There’s a likelihood of an outbreak of water-borne diseases and Malaria as well as Rift Valley Fever especially in the North Eastern and Coastal areas. In previous occurrences, Nairobi residents had to grapple with the Nairobi Fly insect that caused skin irritations and discoloring.
It is imperative that communities be prepared for El Niño’s socio-economic impact that has previously seen them and their animals relocating, lives lost and destruction of property. OAIC would therefore like to encourage its church leaders to share this information widely with their congregations to help with preparedness and avert disastrous effects.
Leaders should advise their congregations to take precaution by:
- Ensuring they have sufficient mosquito nets to reduce their vulnerability to malaria.
- Clearing and unblocking of drainage systems in urban centres as this will ensure that water-borne diseases like cholera, dysentry and typhoid are averted.
- Being careful when crossing flooded bridges to avoid being swept away.
- Digging pit latrines to reduce levels of water contamination.
- Avoid stepping into large puddles of water as they may contain live wires to reduce cases of electrocution.
- Avoid sheltering under trees and caves as they are they are not safe spots.
- Families residing along river banks should be cautious of impending landslides.
- Encourage communities to boil drinking water.
- Be mindful of children’s whereabouts (Ask the school for their emergency plan during this season).
The government has put up contingency plans to ensure operations run smoothly. An Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in Nairobi has been established to enable communication with County headquarters. Kenyans can also seek assistance in case of emergencies by calling a Toll Free Number 1199 which is being managed by the Kenya Red Cross in collaboration with NDOC.