KENYA: Trapped In Budalangi Flood Plain

Posted on 18 September 2007. Filed under: Environment |

Photo: Ann Weru/IRIN
Makunda Primary School has been submerged after the Nzoia river burst its banks in Budalangi, Busia district, Kenya

BUSIA, Kenya (IRIN) – For Grimanus Otuka, a father of four and resident of Budalangi, in Hakati division of Kenya’s western Busia district, the area is not a comfortable place to live because of the floods every few years.

“We are continually rebuilding our houses only for the floods to affect us again,” said Otuka. “We keep losing our property and unfortunately this time round some people also died. We are always starting from scratch.”

Otuka’s family is one of hundreds displaced after the recent flooding. At least 20,000 people were forced to leave their homes, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS). Budalangi has an estimated population of 64,000 people.

Otuka recalled the latest inundation on 15 August. “The river burst its banks suddenly, with so much force, people were screaming, running from the market,” said Otuka.

The flooding occurred when the southern dyke on the River Nzoia was breached for the second time in four months. The dykes were constructed in the 1970s.

“I was only able to save my family but lost most of my household goods,” said Otuka. “Will you run for the sufuria [cooking pot] before saving the child?

“We live in a precarious location, between the river and the swamp,” he said. “The water from the swamp comes to our homes, with the area that seems a bit higher being closest to the river.”

Marooned villages

According to Otuka, the recurrent floods are sinking the area’s residents into even deeper poverty. Most people in Budalangi subsist on maize, beans and millet.

“Following the floods we are hard-pressed and wondering whether to rebuild our houses or pay school fees for the children,” he said.

''I was only able to save my family but lost most of my household goods … will you run for the cooking pot before saving the child?''

It is estimated that 800 families have been displaced while an additional 900 are indirectly displaced (their farmlands and homes are partially submerged), according to the KRCS. An average family has seven members.

The entire southern part of Budalangi is completely submerged with the Maduwa, Bukhuma, Bulwani, Iyanga, Runyu, Khajula and Bubamba villages marooned.

The displaced people have settled in six camps. “Life in the camp is hard; we just sit and do nothing, we are not used to this,” said Otuka, who worked as a carpenter before the flooding but is now at the Mukhobola Health Centre camp.

Moreover, the flooding in Budalangi has also affected the education of hundreds of students in the area. So far, a primary and a secondary school have been closed. At least 12 schools are submerged, as are four health centres, according to the KRCS.

Otuka is worried about the children’s education: “We have children sitting for the class
8 and form 4 examinations at the end of the year and we are worried about their performance in the national exams.”

With the flooding taking place just before the harvesting season, most of the residents of Budalangi have been forced to rely on aid from the government and relief agencies such as the KRCS, World Vision and MSF-Spain.

Local resident Paul Olonda, a father of 16, said the recent flooding had become more severe: “Before, we never used to go to the camps as we were not many. We would go to those places that were not flooded to stay there,” he said. “The waters used to recede quickly then; the rains seem to go on throughout the year in the upper catchment nowadays.”

Catchment area

The rainfall intensity in the area had not increased but the dykes were not coping as they should due to the increased speed of water flows attributable to the loss of vegetation cover on the River Nzoia’s upper catchment areas of Mt Elgon, Cherangani and Kaptagat hills, the regional manager of the Lake Victoria South Water Regulatory Management Authority, Margaret Abira, said.

Normally the Nzoia is a small shallow river, with 90,000 million cubic metres of water in the high season. However, the destruction of the wetlands was increasing the amount of water coming to the river as trees were replaced with maize, which does not hold water adequately.

“The water comes down ferociously,” she said. Budalangi has an annual average rainfall of about 600mm while the catchment areas receive triple that.

Photo: Ann Weru/IRIN
Grimanus Otuka outside his temporary shelter at the Mukhobola Health Centre in Hakati, Busia, Kenya

The increase in the population had also encouraged the encroachment on flood plains, endangering lives and causing the loss of property, she said.

According to Abira, ideally the dykes should be relocated to give the river its space although the investment needed was significant.

Political will

According to Nichodemus Okango of the KRCS in Busia, there is a lack of political will to finding a lasting solution to the flooding problem.

Moreover, there is no adequate flood-response mechanism. “Sometimes we need aircraft but our stakeholders, such as the army, are using them elsewhere on duty,” Major SK Sane, the operations officer at the national disaster operations centre in the Office of the President, said.

“Often our own priorities conflict with those of our seconders, preventing us from responding promptly to emergency situations and leading to disasters,” Sane said.

A holistic approach was needed, said Abira, including dyke-building, catchment management, observation of environmental rules in road construction and possible relocation.

“Vegetation should be planted in the catchment areas to reduce flash run-off because no matter how strong the dykes are they will break if there is no management of the upper catchment to reduce the speed of water flows and retain some of the water upstream,” she said.

Moreover, she suggested the use of the water upstream for electricity generation to reduce the water speed, along with the introduction of artificial banks to decrease the flow energy of the water.

The rampant poverty should also be addressed as it is the reason the people are exposing themselves to risk, she said. “There is a need for the improvement of livelihoods in harmony with the environment.”

According to Abira, the flooding problem will not disappear as interventions, such as reforestation, take time.

Dam solutions

In the long term, water harvesting on the upper catchment through the construction of a multi-purpose structure such as a dam should be considered to reduce the amount of water reaching the low-lying areas, Sabuni Wanyonyi, the regional manager of the Lake Victoria North Catchment area, said.

“The management of the flooding problem should also be synchronised from the source point to the end point,” he said, “When do the rains in the catchment translate into floods?”

The government is conducting a study to establish a 10-year donor-funded project to help control the flooding and improve the livelihoods of local residents. In the meantime, the residents of Budalangi will continue to live with the flooding.

“As much as people are attached to the land, there is a need for us to live in a better place,” Otuka said. “The floods are tiring.

“If I could afford it, I would buy land in the upper areas to move out of the lower regions affected by the floods,” he said.

“Already, those with a bit of money, such as the teachers, have moved to the higher areas. For the rest of us, where do we go?”

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18 Responses to “KENYA: Trapped In Budalangi Flood Plain”

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Very sad situation, it’s been like this in Kenya for years but nothing much has been done. If these people of Budalangi were not so poor they would have moved to other areas. The same applies to Kano plains but Budalangi floods are the worst I believe.

I think the government has neglected Western Kenya including Nyanza for years. That is why poverty levels have never gone down and most problems are looked into temporarily during elections.

I wonder what the army is doing in Kenya, enjoying in the barracks yet the government awards them huge salary increments compared to other civil servant. In Tanzania they build roads and repair, no wonder the roads there are so good compared to our shamba like roads in Kenya.

Its a big problem up there Sue. Government disaster preparedness only swings into action when there’s a bomb blast in town or KQ plane crash, but very little action, if any, for landslide or flooding victims. Land clashes victims are ignored completely unless of course an MP supporting government is threatened.

I am afraid, we need an entire reconstruction of all our systems, starting with political, for this country to come back on track. Otherwise the life of a villager in Budalangi or Kano remains of no value to central government in Nairobi. Thanks for visiting.

give me the case of kano plains

in deed the government needs to step missions
to save livelihood and property.we need politi
cal will to safeguard our people because it is
a right every one is entitled to.kudos red cros
s for humanitarian aid because as your princip
le alleviating human suffering you have rest
assured budalangi residents.relocating people
and giving blankets and food is not enough.what
if they run out of is better to teach
a man how to fish than give him fish

it’s now 8yrs this Gava hs bn in power.I also thot we nw hv a knowledgeable n promising,yet nothing hs bn done.
Is it a question of ‘same script different cast’? Moody ‘Uncle’ came wt shoddy dyke constructions for political mileage;Wanjala ‘thecock’knew nothing more than making Pakistani trips;Wht is Hon.Namwamba doing about ths,eight years down the line???????????

So far so good, much has been said about Budalangi but is there any lasting solution that has ever been resorted to act as an antidote to the periodic disaster? Apparently none, perhaps dikes are not the only way to combat this problem. Another factor that could lead to this disastrous occurrence is insufficient information and inadequate capacities amongst the local individuals. Well may be to say, I am a a bachelors degree holder in Geography, and I have critically evaluated this phenomenon to come up with a solid solution by integration of GIS and Civil Engineering to settle the issue once and for all. GIS is meant to provide patterns and relationships that are not readily apparent in what people’s ideologies are by use of spatial data such as satellite images and ground coordinates as Civil Engineering provides structural support in terms of construction. So I would suggest that strong GIS Specialists and Analysts be contacted as soon as possible to combat this thorny issue.

Dear Collins,
As an Engineer, the solution to the problem is very basic. It does not need rocky scientist from moon or developed world to come up with it. You and I are more than sufficient enough.
Mapping of GIS and Predictive nature of weather will and shall never be precise on the magnitude of rainfall that wrecks havoc on our lives. To give you a hint, a river is just like your domestic water open drain channel. The way you maintain it is the same way you should maintain a river but only on a macro level with less frequency. Flooding phenomenon is mostly witnessed just before the mouth of a river in the plains. Remember any blockage of the river channel due to silt and vegetation enchroachment results to constriction to flow of water. The mouths of most of our rivers are chocked with silt and this is the main culprit.
Probably, we can put our heads together as I am developing a permanent engineering solution in form of a proposal on the same. Combined with your expertise it can be fine tuned to guide the government on the right course.

Thanks for your concern.

As an Engineer and indigeneous person from Budalangi area, it is pathetic that real Engineering solution to a small problem of flooding can not be attained. I am working on a document entailing simple engineering solution to all flood prone areas within Kenya. The passion and zeal in me is the driving force. I do not know the right agent to pass on the content of the report. Please reach me on below email.
We swing in action when disaster occurs but real engineering preventive measures have eluded us. Poilitical patronages have taken advantage of situations to gain political milleage. If you are real serious on dealing with the problem permanently please let us compare notes, put our heads together and move forward for an engineering legacy that will drastically smoothen the lives of people in Budalangi and other flood prone areas.

what a love of idea that most of us are concerned with these kind of humanitarian crisis

Am a DISASTER MANAGER by proffesion,the floods are causing a lot of distruction.
Budalangi floods can be managed easily if:

1>MITIGATION measures are put in place eg building dykes,Dam, for collection of excess water which leads to floods .
2>PREPAREDNESS measures are taken in time to ensure timely and effective precautions.Preparedness includes, training,public awareness,moving to safer grounds,among others.

3>RESPONCE Mechanism are undertaken in time,accurately and effctively.Responce includes ,search and rescue,among other activities.

4>RECONTRUCTION which involves activities which brings back the community to normal.They include;counselling,rebuilding of destroyed properties e.t.c.

I would wish to continue but incase you need to inquire anything,my email adress is

I have a solutin, I just need the government to listen to me and give me a chance to share with them the plan and design that I have put in place.

the government should ensure that dykes are established to control the movement of water .


bita newe onyala

the issue in Budalangi should be looked into and a solution if not solutions derrived. We are loosing lives which is not good 4 the country

The Budalangi issue has been used as a campaign tool leaving residents under mercies of the incumbent leaders for over 2 decades no one is ready to deal with the havoc once and for all because the relief handouts act as campaign tools.Solution is to elect leaders with a national face who are focused,with sustainable development strategy not persons who to take us through same script and regionalising developments only to their strongholds.

バレンシアガ 財布

As a Kenyan, coming from Budalangi and having felt the consequences of flooding, it is pathetic that 5 decades have passed after independence without any meaningful solution to flood prone areas within the country. Albert Estein once said, insanity is doing things same way repeatedly day in day out, week after week, month after month, year after year but expect to have different results. This is a dream in pipeline. Unless our approach and tactics change, we should not expect meaningful positive changes as a result of flooding. The approaches we give so prominently in the Kenyan version of being heard doing something will only keep on wasting our meagre resources year in year out.
For any drainage problem in our shamba, my mum, Maria, a gumbaru dropout, never thought of erecting a dyke. Maria sought for the cause of water spillage in the shamba. Mostly the cause was found to be a blocked water drain channel. Our mum with her little education but highly inspired knowledge of managing spill off instructed us always to unblock the channel. A river is a mega water channel. Siltation and encroached vegetation at the mouth tends to choke the passage. Jembes and shovels cannot be used. We need mega equipment such as dredgers to open the existing river causeway and create new canals so that water can easily flow in the lake/ocean. . This is the work of a dredger. A simple dredger can be imported at a cost less than ksh. 40m. The dredger which is road transportable will serve the entire country areas having similar flooding problems.
The muscling operational cost of opening existing and creating new waterways in Budalangi or any other place can average to Ksh. 100m. The same exercise can be repeated after 10 years as siltation is normally a slow process. Averagely we shall be spending Ksh. 10m every year to sustain the livelihood of residents in the flood plains. This is equivalent of giving about ksh. 100 per affected head per year. Whenever flooding occurs, something that almost happens every year, mobilisation of resources to alleviate the situation, averages to about ksh. 20,000 per family.
The dredger will take approximately 2 months in a given area. Within a year, countrywide operation in western, nyanza and Tana river will be completed.
I urge all concerned to follow this approach if truly you are seriously seeking for a permanent solution.


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