During the 2015 short rains season, Kenya received greater than usual amounts of rains, owing to the El Niño weather phenomenon. While these rains greatly improved pasture and rejuvenated water sources in the livestock farming zones, they caused rivers to swell and breach banks, leading to widespread flooding in the lowlands. Tana River County was one of the coastal regions badly affected. Rains in the highlands, the source of Tana River, caused heavy flooding downstream, destroying crops and property.
In response to the county’s distress call, the World Food Programme provided displaced families with two months’ supply of food, courtesy of a donation from the Government of Japan. Six months on families living in the Tana Delta were still rebuilding their lives following devastating spells of flooding. To date, empty makeshift camps still dot many town centres, a constant reminder of the widespread displacement.
Even though Tana River did not receive excessive rains, the heavy downfall in the highlands caused the river to burst its banks, inundating fields and villages. Close to 50 makeshift camps sprung up across the delta at the height of El Niño rains late last year.
The rains finally eased at the beginning of the year and by late March, farmers had started preparing to plant. However, just a month later they were affected by flooding once again when the electricity-generating dams along the Tana River discharged excess water that had built up due to the heavy rains in the highlands. The few who had returned to their homes were forced to flee again.
By the time we returned to Tana River in June, the people had begun returning to their villages once again.
“We are following the receding water with hoes and seeds. As soon as a section of the farm dries up, we put the seeds into the ground,” said Fatuma Hassan, a young mother of two living in Miyesa village, Tana Delta sub-county.
“I have moved back to my house and we are planting afresh, but many farms are still waterlogged,” she said. “Some of my neighbours have erected makeshift shelters in the village because the houses are still flooded.”
“The assistance that was provided through the Government of Japan was not only timely, but was also adequate,” said Mike Kimoko, the Deputy County Commissioner, Tana Delta. “However, the same people that we assisted then have faced yet another flooding disaster.”
Khalif Noor Kediye was among those still living in temporary camps as late as the end of June.
“We got food twice during the El Niño flooding. Soon after returning to our homes in Bulla Rhama village, a second wave of flooding displaced us” said Khalif. “If we hadn’t received the food, we would have faced immense hunger. But even now, we are in need. We are now selling livestock in order to buy flour,” he added.
The People of Japan
The Government of Japan gave WFP US$ 300,000 which was used to buy cereals and pulses from the local markets. Through the support of USAID, WFP also distributed vegetable oil to complete the food basket.
“I’m happy meeting and interacting with so many of you whose lives were directly touched by assistance from the people of Japan,” said Yo Ito, the First Secretary in charge of UN affairs at the Embassy of Japan in Nairobi, in a recent visit to Tana Delta.
“I will convey your gratitude to my government and also your pleas for more assistance,” said Yo.
Village after village, the communities expressed gratitude to the people of Japan for coming to their aid at the time of need.
“We had completely run out of food. Your support was critical. Today, we are happy to see the people who helped us,” said Badula Dhidha, a farmer in Kitere village in Tana Delta sub-county.
Tana Delta is home to about 100,000 people, most of whom farm along Kenya’s longest river, the Tana River.
“Every year, our people are displaced by flooding. We want to find a long-lasting solution to this menace,” said Mike Kimoko, Deputy County Commissioner, Tana Delta.
Until a solution is found, the people will continue living and farming perilously close to the river banks.
“Our lives depend on the farms,” explained Badula Dhidha. “We cannot move away from our only source of food.”