Impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño Event in Kenya

F. Karanja, F. Mutua, Laban Ogallo, Christopher Oludhe and Seth Kisia (2000). Impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño Event in Kenya. Reducing the Impact of Environmental Emergencies through Early Warning and Preparedness in the Case of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). United Nations University.

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  • Sub-type Technical report
    Author F. Karanja
    F. Mutua
    Laban Ogallo
    Christopher Oludhe
    Seth Kisia
    Editor F. Karanja
    F. Mutua
    Title Impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño Event in Kenya
    Series Title Reducing the Impact of Environmental Emergencies through Early Warning and Preparedness in the Case of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)
    Publication Date 2000-05
    Place of Publication Nairobi
    Publisher United Nations University
    Pages 55
    Language eng
    Abstract This project was carried out for the country Kenya, which lies between latitudes 5 degrees North and 5 degrees south south and between longitudes 34 and 42 east. Kenya has land area of about 569,137 km . It has a great diversity of landforms ranging from glaciated mountain peaks with permanent snow cover, through a flight of plateaus to the coastal plain. The country is split by the Great Rift valley into the Western part which slopes down into Lake Victoria from the Mau ranges and Mount Elgon (4,300m) and the Eastern part which is dominated by Mt. Kenya and the Aberdare ranges that rise to altitudes of 5,200m and 4,000m respectively. The socio-economic problems experienced by Kenyans are varied including those arising from inequitable patterns of land ownership, high population growth rate, rural-urban migration of the population, poorly planned urbanization, deforestation, low level of literacy, and high levels of unemployment. Kenya’s population growth rate is still one of the highest in the world at 2.6 %. This implies that the economy of the country has to support a large and growing number of young people. This has also created rural-urban migration that over-stretches the resources in the urban areas leading to a decrease in the standards of land management, infrastructure, water, sanitation and municipal services. The result has been a steady decline in health and environmental standards as well as increased vulnerability to human-made and natural disasters. Due to the population growth, there has been a noticeable rural-rural migration to the ASAL areas, affecting the ecosystems of these regions and rendering them more vulnerable to disasters, such as drought and environmental degradation. The above problems are coupled with high levels of poverty prevalent in all sections of Kenyan society. According to a 1994 Welfare Monitoring Survey, 48% of the rural population is food poor, while 47% of the rural population and 29% of the urban population were identified as absolute poor. A large number of the poor are living on either subsistence agriculture or employment in the urban informal sector. The recent El Niño (1997-98) and the heavy rains of 1999 showed that those most affected by these natural occurrences are the poorer sectors of the population living in slums and squatting along flood and landslide areas. Poverty also seriously affects their resilience to disasters given the constant challenges for survival that many face. Kenya is characterized by its limited natural resources, especially water, minerals and agricultural land. This condition, coupled with the fragility of its ecosystems and vulnerability to increased pressure by human activities, raises critical environmental issues related to bio-diversity, deforestation, desertification, drought, floods and pollution. Forest resources and soil cover are being depleted due to the rapid increase in population and the demand for human settlements and agricultural land, grazing, sourcing of construction materials, food, fuel-wood, essential oils and herbal medicines. These factors make Kenyans highly vulnerable to any major disruptive activities, for example, damages caused by natural hazards such as floods and droughts. The number of deaths and injuries to both human beings and animals, damages to infrastructure, disruption of public services, and economic losses from man-made and natural hazards are on the increase and present a threat to the socio-economic development of the country. In order to reduce the impacts of these hazards, it is necessary to put in place measures to manage the hazards before and as they occur. To do this, an early warning system must be in place to create awareness of the impending disasters and hence enhance preparedness. A system should also be in place to deal with the effects of an ongoing hazard. This requires the setting up of disaster mitigation and emergency response facilities. The main objective of this assessment is to review forecasts and impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño, as well as the climate-related early warning and natural disaster preparedness systems in Kenya in order to improve its ENSO coping mechanisms. Based on this assessment, the project identifies research and policy needs and form a basis for developing preliminary guidelines for future regional and national natural disaster preparedness plans for ENSO warm and cold events and their impacts. Specifically, the project is aimed at forming the basis for: 1) Identifying policy needs which can then be developed or incorporated into appropriate operational disaster management and research programs. This would include, but would not be limited to, those relating to the potential yet-to-be-identified linkages between ENSO and climate change. 2) Developing a preliminary set of guidelines for national and regional preparedness for ENSO. 3) Designing a capacity-building program for fellowship and training of mid-level resource and sector managers, post-graduate education, and outreach to the international academic and scientific community. Through an improved understanding of early warning, the project ultimately contributes to the safety and welfare of people and the environment by enhancing preparedness for the impacts of future ENSO events. In achieving the main objective, the project considered the effects of the 1997-98 El Niño phenomenon on various sectors of Kenya. The responses of Kenyans to the phenomenon were also studied. In particular, the project studied the water resources, agricultural, transport, human health and the socio-economic sectors. The short rains, which normally occur during the months of October to December, were extremely magnified during the 1997-98 ENSO episode. The rains, which started as normal rains in October in most parts of the country, picked up to flooding levels during the beginning of November and continued at high levels into January the following year. They subsided slowly and ended by mid February 1998 in most parts of the country. It was determined during the project that the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) issued a forecast for the 1997-98 El Niño event as early as July 1997. According to KMD, this forecast was sent to the Office of the President, Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Information, Transport and Communications, which are usually on their mailing list. The information was also sent to the Kenya Power and Lighting Company who normally use the monthly and seasonal rainfall forecasts for planning. This forecast was subsequently widely published through the electronic and print media. However, it was received with skepticism due to alleged earlier “wrong” forecasts from KMD. It was therefore not taken seriously and hence no mitigation nor emergency response procedures were put in place. In general, a sizable percentage of the Kenyan population were aware of the impending heavy rainfall in advance, but did very little to safeguard against their effects. As the heavy rains hit the country and continued into December 1997, almost everybody realized that the warnings from KMD were real and immediately thereafter, almost anything that happened to the water resources in the country was attributed to the El Niño. The interest and awareness of El Niño was enhanced when its devastating impacts were seen throughout the country. The various articles and presentations on the print and electronic media created more interest and awareness on the subject. Due to its uniqueness, intensity and destructive power, the 1997-98 El Niño event was an intriguing phenomenon to many in the country, even to those who are involved in the ENSO research. It was therefore not surprising that the 1997-98 El Niño was blamed for almost all the problems, that individuals, groups and the Kenyan population as a whole were facing, be they the worsening national economy, social ills and diseases, retarded national development or even domestic hardships. The resultant floods had wide-ranging positive and negative impacts on various sectors of the national economy. The sectors identified to have been seriously affected were agriculture, water resources, transport and communications and health.
    UNBIS Thesaurus KENYA
    Copyright Holder United Nations University
    Copyright Year 2000
    Copyright type All rights reserved
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