As we descend towards the airport in Malindi, I got a clear view of the situation on the ground from the sky. River Galana had burst its banks, overflowing and spread over a larger region than what I anticipated
As I began my journey to Malindi that Saturday afternoon, I pondered over what I was going to encounter upon arrival. I had earlier been briefed on the flashfloods in Marafa, which had affected over 5000 households within two sub-locations. The previous night, in the news, I saw military helicopters airlifting people marooned by the floods from their homes to higher grounds, some being injured, weak and could not support themselves. Being my first disaster emergency mission, I wondered how I would view all these. Will I be emotional? What would I have done if I as in the same situation?
As we descend towards the airport in Malindi, I got a clear view of the situation on the ground from the sky. River Galana had burst its banks, overflowing and spread over a larger region than what I anticipated. From an eagle’s eye view, this area looked like a large swamp or a lagoon where only marine life would exist. But no, a closer look as we further descended revealed the wreckage of small homesteads swept by the flash floods. Only a few soaked, palm-thatched roofs are visible. Most of them freely floating on the overflow waters of River Galana. I saw desperation.
“I received so many panic calls that night, I cannot count. Villagers in Marafa were calling for help, saying that they have been flooded in and needed to be rescued.,” explained Cosmas Menganyi, an ActionAid official who also lives in the area. He says he could not really understand what was happening as the area had not experienced any rains so floods were the last thing they expected. After all, ActionAid was still distributing relief food for the long-standing drought in the area.
He sprang into action, going from village to village directing people to move to higher grounds. He received support from strong youths who are good at swimming since the overflown river had an overwhelming pressure which could easily drown a weak individual.
I was carried away with his encounter such that I did not even notice how poor the condition of the roads were to Marafa. I started noticing when it started raining and our vehicle was skidding on the soft sand which had already absorbed a lot of water. It was a marram road full of potholes, large and small ones, splashing water on the roadsides as we went through. It was the first time that it was raining in this location after a long period of drought. At some point, we had to slow down due to low visibility. This gave Cosmas more time to tell me of how he came to realize that his house which he thought was on higher ground had also been submerged in the flooding waters of River Galana. As he was busy evacuating people from their houses, his neighbor called to inform him that his family was being evacuated to higher grounds because his house was flooded too.
This unfortunate occurrence did not deter him from proceeding with his rescue mission. He went ahead and assisted as many as he could, especially the vulnerable persons in the community.
His narration is cut short by a call from one of the lorry drivers carrying relief food who says that they had reached a bridge where it was impassable since the river had overflown above the bridge. This meant we could not deliver the relief to our first target location, Singwaya Secondary School. The lorry driver further advised we not use the preferred route to Singwaya since another section of the road had been cut off by the raging floods. We immediately made a U-turn and opted to go to the second distribution point, which was at Karimboni Primary School.
At Karimboni Primary, a crowd anxiously waiting for relief aid met us. Their faces brighten up as we drive in the school with some singing songs of joy in their local dialect. This clearly brings out their feeling since we arrived late due to poor roads and change in itinerary. Some, especially women with large families, were whispering that they thought we would not come so they were thinking of what to do next, or rather where they would get at least a meal for their young children.
With the help of the local youth, the relief items were offloaded and the distribution kicks off. At this school, our local partners Sauti Ya Wanawake together with the local Disaster Management Committee had identified and registered 120 households who each received a bale of flour, a bar soap, 2 liters of cooking oil, 9kg beans, 1kg salt and a dignity pack for the women and girls. Before distribution, Lydia who is the chair of the local Disaster Management Committee read out the available items to the community members present to account for the disbursed items and what each family was to receive.
In the response, the Kenya Red Cross also distributed non-food items like tents, water containers and blankets to supplement the food ActionAid distributed. The local government through the county representatives and Ministry of Health officials was also present. The distribution was coordinated by the present CSOs to avoid a mix-up.
The Garashi Member of County Assembly (M.C.A), Hon Peter Ziro who was also present during the distribution process at Karimboni Primary School assured them that the National Government, County Government and other non-profit agencies were working together to assist all those affected by the floods. I sought an audience with him as the distribution was in progress and he expressed his gratitude to the military for their rescue efforts during the first day of the floods. Curious, I questioned him off-the-books on how the County Government plans to handle this situation considering the country is headed towards the budget season in the next 2 months and how he as the local representative plans to request for more funds to be allocated for such emergencies. He said that the County was aware of this situation but he shied away from my question.
Our next stop was Garashi Primary School, which was the alternative location to Singwaya Secondary School set for relief distribution. A journey that took us approximately one and a half hours from Karimboni. The displaced persons at Singwaya were requested to cross over and converge at Garashi since it was closer. They managed to arrive in good time and the distribution started with the aim of reaching the same number of households as those at Karimboni Primary. Here, we are accompanied by Kenya Red Cross Society, who were also there to distribute non-food items to the displaced community. Each household was to get a pair of blankets, a kitchen set, a jerry can and a mosquito net.
At this school, as we proceeded with the interventions, more families continued to flock with loads of their salvaged items and animals. Some with soaked mud-stained mattresses and some with chicken and goats and other belongings wrapped and balanced on their heads.
Janet Kazungu, a displaced woman, narrates to me how she was rescued by a young man after she was overwhelmed by the floods on the night when the floods started.
“It was around 1 a.m. when I suddenly woke up to water inside my house. Almost everything was floating.” She narrated. “Since I was with my children in the house, I quickly grabbed them and opened the door screaming for help. The pressure from the floods was too strong and I could not manage it with while holding my children. I managed to hold onto a branch from a tree outside my house while the kids held me tight. I shouted for help until some youths swam and helped me and my kids out of the floods.”
Janet lost all her chicken, goats and cows, which were all swept away. From the time she was saved, Janet had been sleeping under a tree for two nights with her children. Her face says it all. She looks weak. She only moved to Garashi Primary School when a member of the local Disaster Management Committee told her that she could get more help at the school. She, however, thank God since she did not lose any family member.
The aftermath of the floods is visible from every point in Marafa Location. With the schools hosting the displaced, it is unclear how students will resume with learning like those from other sections of the country. So far 6 schools in the location are hosting displaced persons; Garashi Primary and Secondary, Singwaya Secondary, Karimboni Primary Kaya Dagamra Primary and Baricho Primary. With a combined about 2000 pupils, this means that this large number will miss the first weeks of classes not only because their schools host the displaced, but also the fact that they have lost their education materials from books to uniforms to school fees in the floods.
The health situation too is deteriorating in the host schools. The total population of the displaced is around 7000, compared to the at most four toilets in each school, clearly indicating a looming health situation. There are no bathrooms; therefore, those who are lucky to shower do it at night. The stagnant water with all the dirt exhumed from the flooded toilets and minimal access to clean water is a risk to the population in these centers. The Ministry of Health had earlier indicated that they would do health sensitizations in these camps to avoid any hazardous incidents in the coming days.
As we leave in the evening, I carried with me a bittersweet feeling. I was glad because someone somewhere was not going to sleep hungry that night, the next day and maybe even a week after we had left. At the same time, I was worried about the children who were to resume their education. What will they do? I was thinking about these families who had lost everything. How will they recover from this unfortunate occurrence? How will they start a new life?
ActionAid Kenya collaborated with various government, CSO and community stakeholders in the rescue and relief distribution for flood-impacted residents of Kilifi County, late February. In the first distribution, 250 households were reached with food items and dignity packs. The distribution exercise was led by the local community Disaster Management Committees.