Plan better for natural disasters as climate changes

Let Cyclone Hidaya be the gift of forewarning to prepare better

In Summary

• Africa is having more cyclones and storms currently than in the previous decade

A road destroyed by floods in Gamba on Garsen-Lamu Road
A road destroyed by floods in Gamba on Garsen-Lamu Road

Tension and anxiety levels were at an all-time high last weekend, when Kenyans were put on cyclone watch. Cyclone Hidaya was projected to hit the Eastern Coastal towns of Tanzania with Kenya bearing a full effect of the aftermath.

It’s only after the cyclone hit that we learnt that according to some physics law, cyclones can not hit regions of a certain proximity around the equator. But before that, it was chaos!

Schools were closed indefinitely, certain jobs suspended, beaches shut down and my teenage niece packed a disaster evacuation bag! It made me think, how prepared are we for natural disasters?

Africa has always been a strong continent. We do not suffer the same level of extreme natural disasters as other continents. Our earthquakes are mid-level at best, cyclones are rare and we only receive high tides after a tsunami from the Eastern Hemisphere.

However, with climate change, the patterns are shifting. We are seeing more cyclone occurrences and storms in the last few years than in the previous decade.

Icebergs are breaking off, part of the tundra that has been frozen for a thousand years is defrosting, summers reach record-high temperatures, the deserts are flooding, islands are sinking and so on. The weather patterns are so unpredictable and out of whack with the ‘norm’. At this rate, each and every country on the globe has suffered some sort of consequence of climate change.

Which brings me back to the question: How prepared are we for natural disasters?

Right now, most of the country is submerged due to heavy rains, but everyone just seems to be waiting for the worst to be over. Do we even have a disaster and evacuation team? I highly doubt it.

If we do, then we need to see more of them before the disaster strikes. We need to know of their training, their capacities and their physical address so we know who to call. Just like the firemen.

At some point in my life, I lived in a town near the firestation (not in Kenya, obviously), but the firestation had a Flood and Natural disasters department that I would pass by everyday. I never understood why. In my years of living in that town, there had never been a natural disaster of significant magnitude.

A few years after I left, most of the town I lived in was flooded. The first thing my mind recalled was the Floods department I passed by every single day. “Ah! that’s why they had it,” I thought.

So you see, folks, most countries prepare for eventualities that seem to be a long shot away. When that one-in-a-million situation happens, they are prepared. Why can’t we?

Most of our homes are semi-permanent. Most residential buildings look like they should not have passed the site inspection. Our roads are loosely tarmacked and our bridges unengineered. We have masses of people living in shacks next to water bodies, and no disaster management.

How many of us are prepared in case of such events? How much ration do we have at home in case of sudden lockdowns? How many of us can evacuate in a moment’s notice? Do we know which parts of our homes are the strongest to seek shelter in during storms and earthquakes?

I can wager that not even a handful of us have thought of such things, let alone be prepared for it. This is why I say, let us turn Cyclone Hidaya into the gift of foresight.

For those who do not know, Hidaya in Kiswahili means gift. An incorrect name for a cyclone, for sure, but let us use this event as a cautionary tale. This cyclone was our first warning of the eventualities of the future, and we need to take every possible measure to prepare for all types of natural disasters.

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