On Saturday, I woke up to what I initially thought was a joke. I found that my friends had responded to a Facebook provision that made it clear that they were safe thanks to the floods that hit Nairobi on Thursday. For the first time, the engineers at Facebook thought it necessary to help users to know if their friends are safe.
The Thursday images from Nairobi were really scary, with many parts of the city flooded, cars being washed away and city commuters paying to be carried on the backs of strong youths so as to stay dry. It became more worrying when images of houses in one of the posh estates were submerged by flood waters after a nearby river burst its banks. This spoke a lot about how often we foolishly reclaim wetlands because we want prime plots to sell and ‘develop’ as nature gets the last laugh.
There were also of disturbing images of poorly disposed plastic bottles. We are in that era where we are now addicted to drinking water in plastic bottles that we soon throw away almost anywhere. Even the soda that we grew up taking from glass bottles that we had to take back to the shop is now more likely to be consumed in a plastic bottle. We need to have a serious discussion about this addiction. Places like Kigali have done a lot to sort the mess that comes with plastic bags and disposal of plastic bottles is not as bad an issue as we see elsewhere.
The worst bit was the news that the heavy rains had cut off two key roads that connect Nairobi to Mombasa. Someone even joked that Nairobi was now officially an island. Having Mombasa cut off means major disruptions to the flow of logistics that most of the region consumes and puts a lot of pressure on many other roads in the country of Kenya. It is good to know that by the time of writing this the road situation had been fixed.
Situations like the one in Nairobi often serve to remind us of lessons we have been served almost annually. Nairobi, Kampala, Dar es Salaam, Bujumbura and sometimes Kigali have all had their fair share of torture from heavy rains. Nairobi and Kampala were built in wetlands and floods love to visit to remind us that we made some mistakes and we are still making more mistakes that we need to fix. We need better drainage and more attention to our environment.
Our city planners also need to know that there is drainage and drainage for floods. We need to pay attention when our meteorology departments warn us about the rains. We need to have proper responses in such situations to avoid losing lives. Using a Facebook provision to say we are safe is one way but we should do more without causing alarm. I noticed pictures of a road in Kenya that had been washed away were wrongly being shared as those from a road in Western Uganda.
Official channels of information should be utilised during such times to inform people of where and how to take precaution. It is always disturbing to see people assuming that their cars have amphibian capabilities by trying to wade through these flooded roads. There was that heartbreaking footage of a bodaboda fellow in waist-high waters looking for his motorcycle. It had been washed away but now he was risking being washed away too. Motorists and other road users ought to be reminded about what to do and what not to do when the roads are that flooded.
More importantly we should stop this primitive way of doing things where we invest a lot in pouring soil in a wetland to turn it into a good plot of land without even doing as much to ensure that there is proper drainage when the rains come down. Nature will keep punishing us for these mistakes. Proper disposal of garbage is something we need to teach children and penalise adults for littering if we are to have a better culture around it.
It is also important to be kind to our environment. We should plant trees and also plant grass. We should remember that climate change is not a myth. None of the things I am saying is a new discovery, every year we find ourselves tortured by floods when it rains and dealing with empty water taps and drought then the rains are gone. We can and should do much better.
Views expressed in this article are those of the author.