By Miriam Gathigah
IPS Contributing Writer
NAIROBI, Kenya April 7, 2017 (IPS) — Kenya’s lack of capacity to cope with wide-scale disaster, has seen thousands of households continue to live precarious lives, especially in light of erratic and drastically changing weather patterns.
If millions are not staring death in the face, due to the raging drought, they are fighting to remain afloat, as their homes are swept away by surging waters.
“Drought accounts for an estimated 26 percent of all disasters and floods for 20 percent,” warns the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).
UNISDR serves as the focal point in the United Nations system, for the coordination of disaster risk reduction and has been running various interventions to make the country more disaster-resilient.
Government statistics confirm that drought still accounts for at least a quarter of all people affected by climate-related disasters. The country is at the threshold of the 12th drought since 1975.
Against this backdrop, for seven months now, Ruth Ettyang and her household of seven have continued to rely on wild fruits and vegetables to survive the deepening drought in the expansive Turkana County, Northern Kenya.
For every dollar spent on disaster risk reduction, a country is likely to save four to seven dollars in humanitarian response.
Temperatures are unusually high, even for the arid area, and the situation is becoming even more dire, since people have to compete with thousands of livestock in this pastoral community, for the scarce, wild vegetation and dirty water in rivers that have all but run dry.
“When rains fail it is too dry. When they come, it is another problem as houses are destroyed and people drown,” Ettyang explains.
Turkana is not a unique scenario and is reflective of the two main types of disasters that this East African country faces.
Additionally, Turkana is among two other counties – Nakuru and Nairobi – which account for at least a quarter of all people killed by various disasters, according to UNISDR.
There is no doubt that Kenya is a disaster-prone country and, in the absence of a disaster risk management policy or legislation, the situation is dire.
“The pending enactment of Kenya’s Disaster Risk Management Bill and Policy, which has remained in a draft stage for over a decade, is a critical step in enhancing the disaster risk reduction progress in Kenya,” Amjad Abbashar, Head of Office, UNISDR Regional Office for Africa, told IPS.
Government’s recent call on the international community and humanitarian agencies to provide much-needed aid to save the starving millions, is reflective of the critical role that humanitarian agencies play in disaster response but, even more importantly, in disaster risk reduction.
“Disaster risk reduction aims to prevent new, and reduce existing, disaster risk, while strengthening preparedness for response and recovery, thus contributing to strengthening resilience,” Abbashar said.
UNISDR supports the implementation, follow-up and review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, adopted at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in March 2015 in Sendai, Japan, and endorsed by the UN General Assembly.
“The Sendai Framework is a 15-year voluntary, non-binding agreement that maps out a broad, people-centered approach to disaster risk reduction. The Sendai Framework succeeded the Hyogo Framework for Action that was in force from 2005 to 2015,” Animesh Kumar, Deputy Head of Office, UNISDR Regional Office for Africa, told IPS.
“This global agreement seeks to substantially reduce disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries,” Kumar added.
According to UNISDR, the disaster risk reduction institutional mechanism in the country is structured around the National Disaster Operations Centre, the National Drought Management Authority, and the National Disaster Management Unit. The UN agency works with these institutions.
Within this context, UNISDR has supported the establishment of a robust National Disaster Loss Database, housed at the National Disaster Operation Centre.
“This database creates an understanding of the impacts and costs of disasters, its risks as far as disasters are concerned, and to steer Kenya to invest in resilient infrastructure,” Abbashar said.
“Systematic disaster data collection and analysis is also useful in informing policy decisions to help reduce disaster risks and build resilience,” he added.
UNISDR is also assisting Kenyan legislators, through capacity building and support in development of relevant Disaster Risk Management laws and policies.
Though the country is still a long way from being disaster resilient, UNISDR says that there have been some key milestones.
“We have collaborated towards ensuring that a National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction has also been instituted to monitor national disaster risk reduction progress,” Kumar observes.
A National Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2018) has been developed to implement the Sendai Framework in Kenya.
At the county level, County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs) have been undertaken, which have integrated some elements of disaster risk reduction and peace and security.
Due to UNISDR work in the counties, Kisumu city in Nyanza region, is one of five African cities that are pioneering local-level implementation of the Sendai Framework in Africa.
“The establishment of the Parliamentary Caucus on Disaster Risk Reduction that was formed in 2015, with a membership of over 35 Kenyan parliamentarians with support from UNISDR, is a key policy milestone,” Abbashar explains.
The Kenyan Women’s Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA) is also advocating for the enactment of a Disaster Risk Management Bill and its establishment was the result of joint efforts between UNISDR and parliament.
UNISDR remains steadfast that the role of women as agents of change in disaster risk reduction must be emphasized.
But the work that this UN agency does in Kenya would receive a significant boost if, just like women, children too were involved as agents of change.
“Incorporation of disaster risk reduction in school curricula can lead to a growing population that is aware of disaster risk reduction, as well as a generation that acts as disaster risk champions in future,” Abbashar said.
Setting aside a sizeable amount for disaster risk reduction in the national budget is extremely important.
For every dollar spent on disaster risk reduction, “a country is likely to save four to seven dollars in humanitarian response and multiple times more for future costs of development,” he stressed.