Natural vegetation is the solution to unpredented floods in Kenya, says expert

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(Flood in Nyatike, Migori. Photo courtesy)

Floods remain one of the most destructive phenomenon in the world. It’s marked with massive loss of lives and property such us buildings and farm produce. Floods leave behind poverty and great agony. While some are artificial, most of them are natural.

Floods in Kenya is mostly common in Nyanza and parts of western bordering the shores of lake Victoria and some rivers such as Nyando in Kisumu and River Kuja in parts of Homa Bay and Migori counties.

When it happens, it’s a real disaster to the affected including animals. Some of the most memorable pleas to the government have been generated in such moments. Most Kenyans still remember to date Ms Jane Anyango Adika who became a celebrity in April 2012 after her video of “Serikali tafadhali saidia” taken in the Kano region went viral. Ms Jane cried out to the Government for help as her property had been destroyed and she could not trace her children and husband. She would later land two jobs, that of advertisement with Safaricom Plc and ambassadorial job with government.

Lots of research have been conducted in the region by different people to find the remedies to this particular problem. One such person is Dennis Onyango, the communication Director at Raila Odinga secretariat. Having come from an area which was commonly flooding every rainy season and as a journalist then working with a prominent media house in early 2000, he decided to be the saviour of his community. This saw him seek an audience with the renown environmentalist the late Prof Puma Muga. Here is his story:

“In the year 2001 or thereabouts, in the middle of unprecedented flooding in Nyatike which old residents said they last witnessed in the 1960s, I sat down with Prof Joseph Ouma Muga (the late) to pick from him what was going on with Lake Victoria and River Kuja that fed into it. At that time, the river was just creating its many branches that were cutting into homes and all places it never used to, before ending in the Lake, which was also pushing outwards.

The professor started by asking whether I knew something called Alluvial Geomorphology. That was his area of specialization. Of course I did not know what that was. But we got over that and quickly got into what was going on with the lake and it’s rivers and what needed to be done.

His answer was simple. The problem was not the lake or the river but the people.
The solution, he said, was for the people to restore the natural vegetation that came with the river and the lake.

He asked that we restore Odundu, Asawo, Orindi and every other vegetation the older people could remember used to grow NATURALLY along the rivers and the lake.
Those vegetation, he said, had natural capacity to stop the waters while also providing breeding grounds for the fish we were crying about. He insisted there was a reason those plants always appeared at the banks of the river and the lake. They may have looked tiny, but they have huge capacity to contain the waters and shield the fish.

By that time, Kenya was slowly becoming no place for professionals. The politicians and related jokers were taking over and what a politician said had more weight than what any professional said.

So we did not listen. We did what was convenient. Where we needed reeds, we cut them and planted eucalyptus.

When we needed to restore riveline vegetation, we asked for relief food and mosquito nets and judged leaders by how much relief food, mosquito nets and handouts they gave out.

To date, it is difficult, in fact impossible to find tree nurseries selling plants and trees natural to the lake and the rivers in our regions.

The lake and the rivers took note and they are now coming for the farms, the roads, the schools, the eucalyptus farms we prioritized. You can’t blame the lake or the gods.”

His story attracted several reactions and some of which include:

“Nature is always unforgiving. We will be paying the price of destroying it and also of not acting timely after we realized we had erred.” Antony Kodiwo observed

For Joseph Orego, “The problem is not about listening more to our politicians and shunning professions but making a right choice among the politicians.”

For George O. Alila, the root course of all these is because professionals have abandoned politics: “The moment professionals in our midst decided to run away from politics leaving it for unlearned chatarlans there was surely going to be trouble in our land!” He said

For Elly Nyandiga, he started by remembering the good old days and how life was in the countryside;

“Well noted!. when we taking care of livestock in the 70’…we could take cows to drink at River Riana and Misadhi. Nyamador was small and you knew the herds people had then….my point is nobody could farm around the river banks ….saka, amboro, odundu, bamboo occupied the river banks and helped in ensuring little alluvial soil drained into the rivers and subsequently into the lake…Right now because of people’s greed, all those the natural vegetation was cleared and people cultivate up to the river!! Even rivers are naturally drying up….they have become shallow ….even lake Victoria is getting shallower each day….!!! Man with little practicable knowledge is dangerous….Prof. Muga was my lecturer briefly on matters of Geomorphology…”

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