El Niño Rains: Kenya’s Preparedness and Risks Amid Climate Change

The mention of El Niño rains has left citizens uncertain about when they will begin and end.

Organizations like the Kenya Meteorological Department and the IGAD Climate Prediction and Application Center (ICPAC) have consistently issued predictions and emphasized the importance of preparedness for these long-awaited rains.

It’s worth noting that late last month, short rains in Northern Sudan caused devastating floods, referred to as “toxic floods,” resulting in the destruction of around 270 homes and infrastructure in Berber, River Nile state. This sudden onset of floods highlights the urgent need for humanitarian aid, as many people are stranded and homeless, underscoring the challenges of responding to such unforeseen events.

According to Power Shift Africa, climate change has increased flood risks, even as many countries continue to develop in high flood-risk areas, with settlements in these regions growing by 122% between 1985 and 2015. This underscores the immediate need for climate adaptation measures, informed urban planning, and climate-resilient policies.

Kenya, having experienced El Niño crises in 1997 and 2006, has improved preparedness efforts, including identifying potential high-risk areas during heavy rains and training local residents on response measures. El Niño rains typically bring flooding, flash floods, landslides, and waterborne illnesses, exacerbated by the accompanying cold weather.

 El Niño
Flooding on the roads from heavy rain.

The government, acknowledging a 99 percent likelihood of heavy rainfall nationwide, has called upon partners, stakeholders, humanitarian organizations, and county governments to support preparedness measures. Managing El Niño rains, especially in arid and semi-arid regions, is estimated to require up to Ksh 10 billion.

Some high-risk flooding areas include Nyakach, Nyando, lower areas of River Nzoia, Winam Gulf, and lower areas of River Sondu in Western Kenya. In the Rift Valley region, Gilgil, Narok town, and Suswa are considered vulnerable, while in the coastal region, Mwatate and Tana River Delta face high risks.

Flash floods are expected in regions with seasonal rivers that can rapidly fill up during heavy rains, including Lodwar, Lokichar, and major urban areas like Nairobi, Naivasha, Nakuru, and Mombasa.

Landslides are rare but can cause extensive damage due to their unpredictability and wide coverage. They are typically triggered by waterlogged soil suddenly shifting, destroying nearby property. Potential landslide-prone areas include West Pokot, Kericho, Elgeyo Marakwet, Mt. Elgon, Narok, Nakuru, Baringo, Murang’a, and areas around Kilungu in Makueni County.

However, according to the Meteorological Department’s predictions, this year’s El Niño rains are not expected to be as severe as the 1997 event, which had a significant global impact.

Dr. Richard Muita, the assistant director in charge of Climate Services at the Meteorological Department, explained that the 1997 El Niño event was exceptional and had a higher index compared to this year’s prediction, which stands at 0.8 for August, as opposed to over 1 in 1997/98.

He further clarified that these rains result from the warming of the ocean surface, causing above-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. This, in turn, alters wind patterns and leads to rainfall in East Africa and the Horn of Africa.

Leave a reply