Heavy rainfall and destructive flooding in Kenya since March are among the most severe weather events in recent memory.

At least 169 people have died, over 190,000 are displaced, and essential infrastructure is compromised, significantly impacting both human life and the economy.

Understanding Kenya’s Rainfall Patterns

In common with numerous regions across East Africa, Kenya witnesses two clearly defined rainy periods: the “long rains” spanning from March to May, and the “short rains” occurring between October and December. 

The “long rains” usually contribute to the majority of the nation’s yearly precipitation, frequently featuring intense rainfall, occasionally lasting into June.

This year, the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) predicted above-average rainfall with the possibility of localized storms and flash floods. 

The most tragic single event occurred on a Monday when a blocked river tunnel under a railway line in southwestern Kenya gave way under the pressure of water. 

This resulted in a flash flood that claimed the lives of at least 48 people, highlighting the devastating power of these extreme weather events.

What caused the floods?

The current deluge can be attributed to a confluence of factors. One key player is climate change. 

Warmer global temperatures lead to increased ocean evaporation, resulting in air holding more moisture.

When this moisture-laden air condenses, it precipitates as intense rainfall. This aligns with World Weather Attribution’s findings, suggesting that human-caused climate change may have doubled the intensity of last year’s “short rain” season in Kenya.

Another factor is a naturally occurring climate pattern called the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). 

The IOD involves fluctuations in sea surface temperatures across the Indian Ocean, with the western Indian Ocean becoming warmer than the eastern side. 

This “positive phase” of the IOD is known to bring heavy rainfall to East Africa, including Kenya. In essence, climate change acts as a multiplier, amplifying the natural effects of the IOD.

 From Drought to Floods and Beyond

The relentless cycle of climate extremes in Kenya paints a heartbreaking picture. People who were already struggling to get enough food because of the last drought are now being forced out of their homes and losing their ways to make a living because of the terrible floods.

Damaged infrastructure disrupts essential services like healthcare and education, further hindering recovery efforts. 

The floods not only result in immediate loss of life and displace hundreds of thousands but also threaten long-term food security by destroying crops and livestock in drought-affected regions.

The floods highlight the need for climate adaptation strategies. These include:

  1. Early warnings: Timely alerts to evacuate high-risk areas.
  2. Stronger infrastructure: Flood and landslide resistant roads, buildings, and riverbanks.
  3. Sustainable land management: Practices like terracing and rainwater harvesting to manage erratic rainfall.
  4. Climate-smart agriculture: Drought-resistant crops and diversified farming practices to ensure food security.
  5. Community programs: Empowering local communities to address vulnerabilities.

Kenya’s experience serves as a powerful reminder of the destructive impact of climate change.

 By implementing these adaptation strategies and transitioning to a low-carbon future, Kenya can enhance its resilience to climate-related challenges.

 The international community must also support Kenya by providing financial and technological assistance, as well as facilitating technology transfer for the adoption of climate-resilient practices.

Collaborative efforts between Kenya and the global community are crucial in building a more resilient future for the nation and its citizens. For further insights regarding this article, refer to this post: https://www.redcross.or.ke/floods/.