From heat wave to torrential rain; hazards of climate change

East Africa has been experiencing an extended dry spell and unusually high temperatures. In some major cities, water levels were beginning to get dangerously low in the main reservoirs.

East Africa has been experiencing an extended dry spell and unusually high temperatures. In some major cities, water levels were beginning to get dangerously low in the main reservoirs.

Upcountry, pastures and farmland had become parched dry.

An air of discomfort was slowly giving way to uncertainty and anxiety, especially among the rural folk.
The reason for all this is because seasonal rains had delayed.

Then last Saturday, the sky opened up and rain fell, at least in Kigali. It came with so much fury. The wind howled in the trees; a few roofs must have been blown off. Storm drains were angry torrents rushing downhill to quickly fill the valleys.

Was the unusual fury, following the unaccustomed heat an angry response to not-so-pious prayers or even insults by fretting humans to the rain god? Perhaps, if you believe in the power of deities to cause mischief.
Or maybe the rains have come for good this time. Which should be some relief to all – urbanites as well as rustics.

Now, this is not the first time rains have delayed. There have been prolonged periods of drought in the past, resulting in famine among societies unprepared for uncertainties of nature or those caused by humans.
Rwanda’s history is full of examples of droughts and famines with appropriately descriptive names. Some were natural disasters.

Others were intended, like the scorched earth methods of the Belgians in their fight to dislodge the Germans from Rwanda in World War One.

Whenever the rains did not come on time or in expected amounts, there was always someone to blame. In the past rain-makers were held personally liable for the failure of rain and bore the brunt of the wrath of the people.

At first they were placated with sweet entreaties and gifts. When these failed to cause rain to fall, the ineffective rainmaker was beaten, and on the pain of death ordered to produce rain.

Sometimes rain fell and all the credit went to the rain-maker. Other times it refused even with all the various measures that had been taken. The rain-god could be capricious, and still is.

Even today, we find someone to blame when rain does not come when it is expected. The modern-day equivalent of the rain-maker – the weatherman or woman – usually bears the responsibility.

There is a difference, though. These ones are not accused of holding up rain, but rather for their inability to make accurate predictions.

The traditional rain-maker was some sort of a seer. He was believed to possess unique ability to know when rain would come or even some influence on when it should fall. Sometimes he “caused” rain to fall because there were predictable patterns on which to base his forecasts.

Today’s equivalent rain-maker is also some kind of a seer – the scientific sort – who looks through various instruments, studies patterns and movement of winds, ocean currents and similar things and then tells us when to expect rain. He is expected to give reliable predictions because there are regular patterns to base on.

What happens when no patterns exist anymore, or when they have been so upset that everything has become irregular? Obviously no dependable predictions can be made.

Such things as seasons become irregular. They swing between extremes. Uncertainty and anxiety set in, and worse, destruction occurs.

And so water reservoirs dry up and townspeople suffer. Typhoid, cholera and other associated diseases break out. Rural folk see their crops dry before their eyes and with them, hopes of a better tomorrow. Livestock drop dead on the bare, baking earth for vultures and other scavengers to pick.

Beautiful islands and people who have survived on them for millennia are lashed by furious and unrelenting rain. We have seen everything in Vanuatu nearly razed to the ground by a cyclone. Or they are threatened with being submerged by rising seas as the Maldives are.

And, of course, there is something to blame for this catastrophe – climate change. There are also people behind climate change – the big industrial nations.

But they are too big to be beaten like the rain-maker who has failed in his self-arrogated divine role to create rain. Nor can they be scoffed at and insulted like the weatherman unable to make reasonably accurate forecasts.

Maybe there is something we can do. We can shout at them, raise such din that we can break through the barrier of dumbness they have erected. We might, perchance penetrate their anti-shame armour and touch their conscience. Or we could do something to hurt their profits.

Perhaps, when all the beautiful islands for their expensive holidays are completely gone, they might be persuaded to save whatever remains.

But don’t count on it. They might also find new holiday resorts on Mars or some other yet undiscovered planet.

Then climate change will only affect the poor and weak. These alone will have to endure unpredictable heat waves, the fury of late rains and the resulting destruction.



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