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January 24, 2019

Landslides are coming, but nowhere to hide

A boy observes a crack in a house at Riontweka village in Nyamache as a result of landslide Photo/Angwenyi Gichana
A boy observes a crack in a house at Riontweka village in Nyamache as a result of landslide Photo/Angwenyi Gichana

With the El Nino rains already here, geologists have warned that landslides might occur some parts of the country.

While the rains will revitalise farming, experts also fear the heavy rains will saturate soils with water and trigger landslides.

The government has advised villagers in North Rift, who live in the landslides prone areas, to move.

But they have remained defiant to calls to vacate. The question they ask is, where do they go to?

Simeon Marachi, a resident of Kabechei area in Keiyo South Constituency, says they they have nowhere to take their belongings.

“People have not moved out in this area because they don’t know where to run. The government is warning us to move to safer places but to where now since the whole of this region is a valley?” Marachi asks.

Most of their crops are still in the farms and the villagers are not willing to leave them behind. “Most of them here will not believe anything about El Nino until it occurs. Landslides have been affecting here and despite that most of the people have continued building their destroyed homes on the same place since there is no extra land,” Marachi says. Another resident, Samuel Chepng’etuny from Chepsio village, who lost his brother to a landslide in 2012, still lives in the same village.

“Even if we are told to run to our relatives or friends, we are living in the same area with them and extensive part of the valley is prone to mudslides,” Chepng’etuny said.

“Unless the government thinks of a long-lasting solution, property and lives will still be lost to landslides since moving out is not a solution because landslides can strike any time,” he says.

“There are areas with weak soils despite having trees and are prone to mudslides due to heavy downpour,” says Uasin Gishu Kenya Forest Service ecosystem conservator Paul Karanja.

Residents at the border of Nandi and Kakamega Counties at Chepnyogoson and Kuvasali were also hit by a landslide few years ago but they still inhabit the escarpment.

The phenomenon is common in most other parts of the country where victims still live despite past disasters.

Kocholwa location chief Joseph Yego said they have sensitised people in the valleys and warned them to move out until the El Nino stops.

He said most villagers have nowhere to relocate at the moment, and urged the government to identify land and relocate them there.

“Landslides have been occurring here since 1961 and the government should buy them land and make the region a conservancy,” Yego said.

Nandi county executive in charge of land and environment John Chumo says they have formed a committee that will handle the disaster related to El Nino rains.

Chumo said the County Assembly has approved the Sh15 million in the budget for disaster, although about Sh500m was required.

“That is why we are calling out on the national government and development partners to help us with the funds. In areas we have mapped out, damages can cost up to Sh500 million and we are wondering where to get it,” Chumo explained.

Dr Thomas Munyao, a geologist and lecturer at the University of Eldoret’s school of environmental studies explain that landslides are just only one of the disasters that can be associated with El Nino rains.

“In Kenya, likely impacts are many and include loss of life, infrastructure, income, land value and other socio-economic impacts,” Munyao said.

He said Kenya is not fully prepared in case of landslides since aspects of preparedness includes early warning systems, land availability in case of relocation, resources for new infrastructure , ready teams to mitigate health related impacts and accurate zoning-off of vulnerable areas.

“Both government and non-governmental agencies have been warning inhabitants to relocate to safer areas yet most of them can’t afford to do that,” Munyao said.

Constitutional provisions, he said, allows the government to identify safer areas to settle those in vulnerable regions and then rehabilitate the vacated fragile zones.

“For example by turning them into forests. However, that requires clear policy and subjection to strategic environmental assessment,” he added.

In April 2010, 11 people perished to a landslide at Kittony village in Elgeyo Marakwet County. About 30 other people died in 2012 and December 2013 when landslides occurred at Rokocho, Kocholwo, Molol, Kabechei and Kaptarakwa in Keiyo south.

The 1997 El Nino rains saw a larger part of Timboroa and Kipkurere Forests in Uasin Gishu County sink together with trees. In 1997, Murang’a was the most hit by landslides in Kenya.

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