BWIRE: Disaster preparedness shows cracks as floods ravage Budalang’i

By Victor Bwire

Budalangi is at it once more with flooding and staring at a humanitarian disaster because of failure by Kenyan authorities to proactively put in place mitigation measures and actively engage the Uganda Government through normal diplomatic talks or the invocation of the East Africa Treaty instruments or the Africa Union convention like the Niamey Convention to minimize the adverse effects.

Even mild reference to the River Nile Treaty would have mitigated this disaster. As Uganda started letting off water from their dams into the River Nile and subsequent increased water levels in Lake Victoria, emergency plans would have sufficed in Kenya immediately, as flooding was expected. Relevant bodies within the East Africa Community ought to have acted.

The area, which has suffered disastrous floods annually since the 1960s had gotten relief for the last few years, thanks to improved Government interventions, but we are back to zero as the ravaging floods are back.

It’s irritating as it’s annoying that since late 2019, floods have been tormenting residents of Budalang’i sub county as the leadership of the country keeps quite, not because of natural reasons, but this time because of human activities from a neighboring country.

Our foreign ministry, which not surprisingly has a chief administrative Secretary from the County, must wake and come to the rescue of the residents along Lake Victoria. Several schools and villages are submerged and a humanitarian disaster is facing the residents.

Nearly 8 schools have been closed as residents now await relief support, not because its raining in the region, but some developments in the neighboring country must be done, even if it means Kenyans dying. Mechanisms exist for solving such unforeseen consequences of cross border activities to handle such matters amicable, but only if the affected country proactively pursues the issue. Shopping centres, police stations, footbridges and related infrastructure have already been submerged, and residents are in dire need of relief support.

Given the timing of the floods and destruction, which comes at the time of planting, it means there will be food shortage next season. Fears are that event the multi million Bunyala Irrigation Rice Scheme might be affected by the floods, as residents prepare to leave for temporary camps, that come with related disease outbreaks.

The County Government has been visiting the area and making efforts to implement disaster mitigation plan, but needs the help of the national government, to supplement their efforts and reaching out to the Uganda Government.

The opening of the spill gateways in the Uganda based dams is seeing increased back flows in the rivers draining into Lake Victoria including Kenya based rivers such as Suo, Nzoia, Yala with anticipated negative impact on human activities in the areas. Already, as result of the back flows and increased water levels, a number of beaches along the lake are submerged while lowlands are experiencing floods that has seriously affected the region.

Lake Victoria is been witnessing increased water levels occasioned by the interventions by the Uganda government to let off excess water drain out of the Jinja dam through opening up the spillway gates of the Kiira and Nabubaale power stations, into the River Nile.

Its reported the dam has reached its peak limit because of the more than enough rainfall experienced in the lake Victoria catchment area recently. Its expected that more dams along the Nile in Uganda will be required to spill including Bujagali and Isimba, which as already seen will mean more water into the Nile and Lake Victoria subsequently.

Uganda and Kenya are part of the countries that signed the 2010 Cooperative Framework Agreement that allows development of projects along the Nile without approval from Egypt. Under the framework, the River Nile Basin Commission shall be established to act as a forum for co-operation and a clearinghouse for the planned measures that could cause any harm to other riparian states.

Some 85 per cent of the Nile’s waters originate from Ethiopia and the Lake Basin is estimated to harbour more than half of Kenya’s surface water resources.  The signing of the new framework by the five countries followed dissatisfaction over the 1929 Nile water treaty, which gave Egypt the right to veto upstream projects it thinks could interfere with the flow of the Nile, which stretches more than 6,600km from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean Sea.

Given the reluctance of countries in the region to ratify the Niamey Convention, civil society organizations in the region ought to increase their advocacy and engagements to have this convention domesticated.

Governments seem not be appreciating the role that the Niamey Convention on cross border relations and development will paly during such emergencies, and non state actors that are in the know, must scale efforts in both educating the residents and the leadership of these countries on the need to ratify the convention.

The author is the Programmes Manager at the Media Council of Kenya

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