It is the rainy season again in Kenya and with the rain comes the danger of flooding.
Reports of families being swept away in their houses and motorists drowning in the murky waters have already started pouring in. In order to prevent further loss of life and perhaps property, we need to understand what causes floods and what to do in the event of flooding in our area.
According to National Geographic, flooding tends to occur when there is sudden heavy rainfall over a short period of time, which causes water to rise very rapidly.
The heavy but short bursts of rainfall being experienced in the country result in streams and rivers breaking their banks and areas without good drainage systems become water logged, resulting in the floods.
Factors that enhance the risk of floods, according to the Kenya Natural Disaster Profile by the United Nations Development Program Enhanced Security Unit, include:
- Location of settlement in the flood plains
- Cultivation of crops along slopes adjacent to the floodplains, causing massive erosion and destruction of trees in the catchments.
- Lack of awareness of the flood hazard by the local communities
- Where the capacity of the soil to absorb water is reduced due to erosion or existence of concrete.
- Poor building materials leading to non-resistant structures and foundations that cannot withstand the running waters
“Floods are sudden, but they give a window to reduce the risk associated with them,” said Venant Ndigila, the emergency preparedness and response manager for the Red Cross. Here are safety tips to keep you and your family alive before, during and after floods.
1. Avoid building in a flood plain, this is an area especially prone to flooding during heavy rains- In Kenya areas prone to flooding include: Kano plains, Nyakach area, Rachuonyo and Migori, Budalangi, Kilifi, Kwale and the Tana River Basin, Garissa, Wajir, and Ijara as well as urban centres like Nairobi, Nakuru, Mombasa, Kisumu, where drainage may be poor.
2. Pay attention to weather forecasts- When heavy rain or storms are forecasted, listen to the radio or television for information on flooding risk. Mr Ndigila advises everyone to keep abreast of this information through the news or updates from the meteorological department.
1. Move to higher ground- if in an open field during the flooding, move to higher ground such as a hill, to avoid the rising waters. If in an urban setting and in a multi-storeyed building, you are advised to move to higher levels of the building.
2. Switch off electricity- Mr Ndigila cautions that if flooding has taking place inside a house then you should immediately switch of the mains connecting power to the house.
“Avoid using electrical appliances and never touch any electric wires,” he said.
3. Avoid driving in flood waters- if driving ensure you are aware of the weather updates and know if the route you intend to take is prone to flooding. If floods are expected in that area, find an alternative route or postpone your journey.
However, if you are already enroute and come across a flooded section of road, Mr Ndigila advises that you slow down to 1 or 2 kilometres per hour, especially if the water is moving. If possible, drive on the higher sides of the road and if the water is too high (above six inches) you can always reverse and avoid the water altogether.
“If the vehicle begins to sink in the water, wait until it is fully submerged before trying to get out, use this time to get out of the seat belts. Once the vehicle has stopped sinking, break or open the windows and get out of the vehicle. Call out for help or try swimming to dry land.
4. Avoid walking in flood water- pedestrians attempting to wade across flood water have been warned not to do so, especially if the water is above the knee.
“When the water is above the knee it can cause destabilisation and you can fall in and get swept away,” Mr Ndigila cautioned.
5. Do not swim in flood water- children especially should never attempt to swim or bathe in flood water, especially if it is moving.
Once the rain has subsided, there are still precautions to be taken while dealing with the flood water:
1. Do not use flood water- Mr Ndigila observed that most flooding occurs following bouts of drought and that many are tempted to use the water for housework or consumption. However, since it is difficult to tell the contamination of the water, it is best to avoid using it altogether.
“If you cannot avoid using the water, ensure that you have purified it first, either through the use of purification tables and solutions or by boiling it first.
2. Improve hygiene around the home- due to increased risk of diarrheal diseases such as typhoid and cholera brought about by floods, you should observe better hygiene by providing good drainage systems and maintain cleanliness to avoid spreading contaminants through the water.
Mr Ndigila said that in the event of an emergency, call the Red Cross emergency line on 1199 to get a rescue team to your location.