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October 21, 2018

Landslides in Murang’a cut off tea farms

A section of A tea farm that was cut off by landslides in Kanyenya-ini ward in Kangema sub-county. /AGATHA NGOTHO
A section of A tea farm that was cut off by landslides in Kanyenya-ini ward in Kangema sub-county. /AGATHA NGOTHO

Houses collapsed, gullies running all over, and farms and houses sliced into pieces. Springs appearing everywhere, even in areas that have never got water. And tea farms in parts of Kangema subcounty cut off.

These are the scenes in Murang’a county after the long and heavy rains. About 500 households have been affected by the downpour, which left five dead, one injured (a watchman in a coffee factory), transport disrupted and many people displaced.

In Kiagotho location, Kanyenyaini ward, Jennifer Wangui says every day there are new cracks on her one-acre farm. 

“The tea leaves are ready for harvest but I’m afraid of getting into the farm in case there is more corrosion. I have never seen anything like this in the 45 years I have lived here.” 

The landslides that have always occurred in Murang’a county have not been this intense, the 55-year-old grandmother says. 

She says they have always experienced good rains, but this year’s long rains season has been unusually heavy, leading to landslides and flooding.

Tea farming is her only source of income, and in a good month, Wangui earns Sh50,000-Sh70,000 from her tea farm. But now she is helpless after the landslide hit half her farm.

“I cannot pick tea leaves in the land affected. There are deep cracks that get worse every day, and I cannot risk my life,” she says as she shows us the cracks.

“We are helpless and we don’t know what to do. We are waiting for the county or national government to give the way forward.”

Her neighbour Mary Muthoni had a double tragedy, with her house and tea farm being destroyed. She started noticing a small crack in one of her two bedrooms and within a week, the crack had intensified and she could no longer live there.

“I was so afraid, I sought shelter in my neighbour’s home, where I have been staying since,” Muthoni says.

Read: Big landslides destroy tea farms, cut roads to Murang’a markets

A crack in Mary Muthoni's farm in Kanyenya-ini ward, Kangema sub-county. /AGATAHA NGOTHO

TRAUMATISED 

Areas hit hard by the landslide include Kangema, Mathioya, Kiharu and Kigumo. In Kaganda, Kaharo constituency, an elderly woman is still traumatised after her husband’s grazing land, two acres of coffee and her house were destroyed by the landslides.

The landslides also destroyed three stone-built houses in Kanyenyaini. Two of the houses belonged to young men and had been built on loan. The villagers are organising a harambee to help those affected to move to other places and rebuild their houses.

“Some of us are still living in our homes, though we fear the situation could get worse if we experience more heavy rains,” Wangui says.

Daniel Kamau, a senior assistant chief said they started observing cracks in houses and farms a few weeks after the onset of the long rainy season.

“Children and livestock animals have been moved to neighbouring villages and farmers in all the affected places can no longer work on their farms because they do not know what may happen next,” Kamau says.

“And with nobody working on the farms (especially food crop farms), it means there is going to be a disaster. They will have nothing to harvest at the end of the season, and affected families will be living as squatters. 

Jeniffer Wangui shows her half acre of tea farm which has been cut off by landslides. /AGATHA NGOTHO

LAND UNINHABITABLE

Charles Waithaka, chairman of the Micro and Small Enterprises Authority, says some of these farms may be uninhabitable, and the residents may have to be relocated to other places, where they can live and farm.

He says this is the worst humanitarian crisis to ever hit the area. “Farms and even roads have been cut off and pushed to new grounds, and every day, something new happens. In future, this could lead to conflict due to farm boundaries,” says Waithaka, who is also a resident of Kangema subcounty.

He says due to the landslides, lorries that transport tea cannot access the collecting centres, and this is hurting the economy. The county and national governments should take action to prevent further disaster, he says.

Families that were once a hardworking and self-sustaining have been rendered homeless, are sleeping in the cold and are subjected to poverty, Waithaka says.

“The future looks bleak as their land cannot hold any construction now or in future. These people are staring at humanitarian crises, sinking into depression and hopelessness. It costs an arm and a leg for a peasant farmer to build a moderate simple house. A once self-sustaining household is now in tatters and a pale shadow of its former self,” Waithaka says.

“The Special Programmes department and Red Cross should move with speed to help affected areas, and the formation of an authority for disaster mitigation, preparedness and response fast-tracked,” he says. 

Also read: Murang’a landslides disaster leaves 300 families in despair

CALL FOR ACTION

Kanyenyaini MCA Jeremiah Kihara visited the affected farmers with his counterparts from Rwathia and Muguru wards in Kangema county, which have been hit hard by the landslides.

He says Gitugu has been the worst-hit area, and some of the residents have moved out of their homes and are living with neighbours.

 “We have been relying on well-wishers to help the affected persons. I’m afraid farmers may not be able to harvest much due to the destruction in farms. The county and national governments should use resources from the disaster management kitty to help those affected,” he says.

Rwathia MCA Peter Mweri says landslides usually occur in sloppy areas, but this time, it has even hit the upper areas that border the Aberdares.

County meteorological services director Paul Murage says the county experienced an early onset of rains, and since the beginning of March, the residents are still experiencing some rains.

Initially the rain was concentrated in the lower and middle zones of Murang’a, but in May, the upper zones of the Aberdares started experiencing high rainfall intensity.

“By last week, the rainfall amount received in Murang’a had risen to 200 per cent of the required amount, especially in Kangema and Mathioya subcounties. The heavy rainfall experienced in the three months has loosened the soils and the ground cannot hold anymore, hence the intense landslides that have led to cracks in houses and farms,” Murage says.

He says water is not moving to the rivers but instead is penetrating deep into the soils, and this will continue happening even when the rains subside.

“We need quick intervention because we only have a window of three months until the next short rains start in October. Some of those affected also need a lot of psychosocial support, and I am happy that Red Cross is offering guidance and counselling services,” Murage says.

County disaster manager Bilha Wanjiku says national and county administrators are helping landslide victims to evacuate and relocate to safer places.

“For now, there are no measures we can put in place apart from evacuation, since we do not know how long the rainfall will continue. Even if we mitigate on anything right now, we don’t know whether we will be able to sustain this or not. The important thing for now is evacuation,” she says.

Wanjiku termed the current magnitude of landslides overwhelming, saying this is why they have taken time to put in place mitigation measures, unlike other times when there were quick inventions.

She says once the rains have reduced, they will discuss and look for a way forward through the Disaster Risk Reduction Committee.

“At the moment, we are concerned about the safety of the residents. It is easy to replace tea bushes but not a life,” she says.

Related: Arrest locals who defy landslide warnings, Sabina Chege tells police

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