LANDSLIDES IN KENYA – How do we preserve life and property?
As the Government of Kenya scrambles to consolidate rescue and recovery efforts at the Kakamega landslide scene, it should not be lost to Kenyans that this is not the last time that we are witnessing a natural disaster of this kind.
Natural disasters disrupt people’s lives through displacements, destruction of livelihoods and property, deaths and injuries. Consequently, they reverse years of development thus posing a major challenge to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals especially the target of halving extreme poverty by 2015.
One would have imagined that the cyclic nature of natural disasters in Kenya could have made Government authorities in Kenya a little smarter because these disasters have constantly eroded the recovery capacity of communities hence affecting their economic and social development year in year out. This requires more vigorous attention and planning to mitigate the effects as they have impacted greatly on the country’s fight against poverty and seriously undermine efforts to reduce the number of people living below the poverty line. The economic cost of the impact of floods, droughts and landslides in the past have been estimated in millions of shillings. It is therefore imperative for the government to come up with policies that will prevent natural disasters and also put in place mechanisms that will prevent loss of life and property when disaster strikes.
Landslides are described as the downward movement of soil and rocks resulting from naturally occurring vibrations, changes in water content, removal of lateral support, loading with weight and weathering or human manipulation of water courses and the composition of the slope.
In Kenya landslides and mudslides occur mostly during the rainy season and are accelerated by flooding. Landslides are triggered by rapid saturation of the soil, which in turn reduces cohesion, surface tension and friction.
According to the National Disaster Operations Centre, which is mandated by the Kenya government to co-ordinate all activities, related to disaster management, “Mudslides have become more common in Kenya because so many forests have been cleared to make way for farmland. People have cut trees to cultivate, and the soil gets loose.”
Landslides may be presented in many forms including, slides, falls, topples, lateral spreads and mud flows etc. They can also result as effects of heavy storms, earthquakes and volcanic activities.
People have expanded their agricultural land to create room for their farm crops. This deforestation means that trees can no longer stop the earth from sliding down hillsides. When this happens many people are buried with the sliding mud
In addition to the influence of topography, landslides are aggravated by human activities, such as deforestation, cultivation and construction, etc, etc.
Landslides in Kenya have been on the increase in the recent past. This has both social and economic impacts mainly loss of life, agricultural land and crops as well as destruction of infrastructure. Landslides tend to bury all that is their way resulting in destruction of life and property. In urban centres, landslides may bury or sink buildings, rubble and boulders moved to block roads, railways, and lines of communication or waterways. They may also destroy all property along their way and render agricultural land unproductive.
So far, we can confirm that preventive measures were non-existent in an escarpment that is known to be a high risk for landslides. What we are seeing at Kakamega is a lacklustre effort and a poorly co-ordinated rescue effort. While residents will appreciate cash donations and what the Red Cross is doing, they also cannot forget to count their losses and wonder how to re-start their lives again after burying the dead.
In the meantime, we hope, the government will move to implementing countrywide preventive measures in order to avoid further loss of life and property.
In a country that is facing threats of adverse weather, earthquakes and massive deforestation, we hope the Kenya Government will move fast and immediately identify landslide hazard regions and put in place emergency evacuation measures. In the meantime, residents of these hazard regions must be educated on importance of prudence in environmental management and farming methods. Otherwise, we shall expect to read about more deaths before the short rains are over!