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News & Events Kenya's Devastating Floods: A Stark Reminder of our Land Stewardship Role
Kenya's Devastating Floods: A Stark Reminder of our Land Stewardship Role
Kenya's Devastating Floods: A Stark Reminder of our Land Stewardship Role
Jescah Otieno

My heart aches for all those who have lost their loved ones from the tragedy facing Kenya today as the death toll nears 100. Heavy rains have lashed Kenya in recent weeks, causing widespread flooding that has displaced thousands, destroyed infrastructure, and devastated livelihoods. In the interest of student and staff well-being, the Ministry of Education has announced a delay in school re-opening. While these seasonal floods are not uncommon, the severity of this year's event highlights a crucial issue: our relationship with land.

Years of deforestation, poor agricultural practices, and encroachment on wetlands have all contributed to land degradation in Kenya. This degraded land loses its natural capacity to absorb rainwater, leading to increased surface runoff and flash floods. When the water has nowhere to go, it has no choice but to breach river banks and flood surrounding low-lying areas. This vicious cycle not only increases the severity of floods but also reduces the land's fertility. The question is, what happens to food security in the long run?

The current floods are a stark reminder of the human cost of neglecting our land stewardship role. The images of the Kenyan floods are heart-breaking. In fact, the flood’s wrath is indiscriminate - both luxury homes and simple shacks have been swept away, and farms destroyed. The images of people huddled on rooftops, their belongings lost or spoilt is a powerful symbol of the immense struggle communities are facing. The sad part is that the duration of the flooding remains uncertain, as the weatherman warns Kenyans to ‘brace for even heavier rainfall. The economic impact is significant, with losses in agriculture, livestock, and infrastructure. This disproportionately affects those who depend on the land for their survival, pushing them further into poverty.

Is there hope? Moving forward, Kenya needs a land-centric approach to build resilience against future floods. The beauty is that President Ruto launched a tree restoration program to combat climate change. The initiative aims to plant 15 billion trees by 2032, reduce greenhouse emissions, stop and reverse deforestation, and restore 5.1 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes. These practices have the potential to improve soil health and significantly enhance water retention.

Most importantly is the need to conserve wetland. We have seen human activity adjacent to rivers and streams - including the construction of opulent homes. While the land question in Africa remains critical, it is time we all appreciate that encroaching in floodplains can have devastating effects. While realizing that residents who invested heavily in some of these properties face a difficult situation, it is critical for the government to find a balanced approach that prioritizes safety and environmental protection, while considering the plight of homeowners. Key questions remain: were proper environmental impact assessments conducted? Did authorities prioritize economic gain over safety of residents?

Health soil is the lifeblood of agriculture. How can we ensure we reduce soil erosion that washes away valuable nutrients and undermine crop productivity? It is time we practice crop rotation, plant cover crops during fallow periods and create terraces on sloppy land to reduce the velocity of water runoff. Sustainable agricultural practices are our only surety for long-term sustainability and food security. Most important is to conduct and heed to weather monitoring and early warning systems that give communities crucial time to prepare.

The current floods serve as a wake-up call for Kenya. As we lift our voices in prayer for an end to the floods and a return to gentle showers, let us also adopt sustainable land management practices and prioritize land rehabilitation, to build a more resilient future. This not only protects communities from devastating floods, but also safeguards our food security and the overall health of our planet. Let's learn from this crisis and become responsible stewards of the land not just we, but the future generations depend on.