Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Long Rains in Kenya - Blessing or Curse?

For you in Kenya right now, depending on your particular location, the rains have really pounded much of our land. Save for a few areas towards the Eastern, Northern and Coastal parts which have been experiencing average to below average rainfall, the greater part of the Central,Western and Rift Valley regions have seen good rains. (Look at the Meteorological Department forecast for 2012 here)
Rains pour on a Kenyan woman
To most farmers this is a good boon after experiencing dry weather from late in December 2011 to late March. This had led to well-below average yields for most crops - both food and cash crops with some suffering devastating effects thanks to the dry conditions. This was reflected in the increase in most food prices - with basic commodities such as maize meal, wheat flour, milk being priced beyond most households income levels.

But that's a discussion for another day....

My main focus here is the Long Rains as we commonly refer to them in Kenya. Have they become too much of a blessing turning into a curse or are we just not able to contain it as we should?
In my living memory most regions experience these types of rainfall this time of the year. We have the famous Western region with its dynamics from its biggest water sources in River Nzoia and its floods at Budalangi ( even though dykes have been construed to be constructed only for them to collapse for poor maintenance and workmanship). Mind you the Nzoia River is one of the rivers supplying the Lake Victoria source to the River Nile...conspiracy of geography???

In parts of the Rift Valley, thanks to the hills and valleys, rarely will most areas flood save for the Southern Rift regions which have more flat plains and cereal plantations. However due to land degradation some parts in the Central Rift regions of Naivasha have seen landslides, flooding and land fissures which were not too common little over 15 years ago. As I write this parts of the South Rift are inaccessible thanks to this still-unexplained geographical and weather phenomena.
Parts of Central Kenya do also experience landslides and these will increase unless the previous vegetation and forest cover issues are addressed. Lots of areas have been cleared for agricultural purposes and also real estate development which I focused on in another blog-post I did sometime back. These developments have meant degradation of land and water resources. We all witnessed the drying up of water sources around Mt. Kenya and surrounding areas meaning reduced water flows to the rivers and the main sources of water for the dams along Tana River which is Kenya's main supplier of power - Seven Forks Dam .
Eastern parts of the country have long suffered the vagaries of desertification which is increasing a fast rate even as some authorities try to make claims of increased forest cover in the Kenyan lands. The potential of these parts of the country have been largely under-exploited with Kenya's major rivers in Rivers Tana and Athi both traverse the areas.
The same goes for the Coastal province which has had failed agricultural projects time and again, yet if the populace would embrace modern agrarian practices, it would feed a large part of the country. From cashewnuts to fruits and vegetable production, along with dairy farming which has been seen to do very well with the right focus; the area is teeming with potent. Don't forget the coastal line of naturally occurring coconuts which are currently on the decline too - thanks to lack of value-add into this crop.
Now with the rains quite literally beating us, Kenyan authorities and farmers will still watch much of the water go to waste. I'd like to make some quick recommends here to curb this wastage;
- Water pans - these would be best suited for flat areas where the land can be prepared in advance and the necessary pans dug along with the trenches and overflows to prevent any spillage that would take place.
- Dykes/Levees - these are usually for flood-prone areas along large rivers. This would work well in the Western region of Kenya which has been trying to make the same. But regular maintenance would regulate the water flowing into these. They have been successfully used to manage water bodies in the Netherlands ( Holland if you like); parts of US State of Illinois to curb flooding of the Mississippi and Sacramento rivers.
- Aqueducts - these were used by Greek and Roman empires back in the Early Ages to water drier areas of their lands. In the same vein these can be used in parts of Eastern province and Coastal regions before the rivers spill their contents into the seas.
- Water tanks - though they may appear to be on a smaller scale, that is if the Government was to make it a requirement for water harvesting to be undertaken by every building and housing consultant especially in regions where rainfall is fairly reliable. This would go a long way in ensuring that each household and commercial building doesn't have to rely on the main water supplying services, in effect subsidising their own water. It would also save them in cases where water levels diminish.

The sad reality of the fact is that we have a Ministry of Water and Irrigation whose mandate is to 'conserve, manage and protect water resources for socio-economic development'. Their focus has been in formulation of Water and Sewerage companies which are private in nature at the various urban areas for water supply and sewerage services. As regards issues such as water harvesting and irrigation or formulation of policies which would see such practices adopted for both agricultural, domestic and consumption of water in the country.

Until then, Kenyans keep yourselves sheltered from the rains and ask ourselves where it beat us.