A friend once told me a story of how he rented a cheap but decent house in one of the suburbs of Kampala. He didn’t give the low rent much thought probably just assuming that he is one of the few people who wade through life with good luck.
When the rains started, he was literally awoken to the new reality that the house was in a flood-prone area. He had to struggle to save his valuables from the water that continued to seep into the house without invitation.
Many can relate to such tales across East Africa.
Whenever we are complaining about the pain caused by poverty, diseases and terrorists we often forget to add that caused by water. Water is one of those things that perennially bully us into submission.
To make matters worse we always seem to swing from extremes. During the dry season water is scare and once it rains we are left with floods.
Right now the heavy rains are all over and I have already seen horrific pictures of the damage done to parts of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. In Nairobi, parts of South C were left nearly submerged in water while in Narok about 15 people died when flash floods swept away 10 cars a few weeks back.
In Kampala a rich man survived death when his Toyota Prado was washed away as he struggled to get out. Parts of Namasuba and Nalukolongo suburbs resembled those of Dar es Salaam with water levels washing away all signs of comfort from the faces of the residents.
Bujumbura’s political situation obviously drowns out any damage caused by the rain while Rwanda seems to have learnt its lessons over the years. But there have been reports of landslides in Burundi while those in Kigali know how low lying areas of the city can suddenly become dangerous after a heavy down pour.
It is often argued that the recurrence of a disaster helps people to adapt and overcome. The Israelis are used to terror attacks from their neighbours and are therefore known to be efficient when it comes to anti-terrorism measures. The Americans know when the hurricanes and tornadoes show up and do a good job at preparation and disaster management.
But what is our excuse for perennially failing to deal with heavy rains. We know that pouring soil in wetlands, dumping rubbish especially plastics in drainage channels and covering our compounds with cement is a very stupid thing to do but we keep doing it. Ironically the more educated people in the cities are often the ones guilty of these bad manners.
When it rains and the flooding starts you wonder what people charged with disaster management are paid for.
You never hear of information on which parts have flooded and should be avoided until a car or two have been washed away and lives lost.
Many a time the media reports are about how people’s homes have been destroyed by heavy rains rarely about the emergency and long term measures taken to deal with the situation. Sometimes measures will be mentioned and forgotten once the rainy season ends only for the cycle to be repeated same time next year.
The rich get away with building in the path of natural water channels as long as they can leave a small concrete drainage that sends the water to the areas inhabited by the poor who then have to deal with diseases like cholera once their areas flood and their pit latrines get filled with rain water.
Kenya is already dealing with cholera cases as you read this.
We can’t keep feigning surprise with these things. We can predict the rains so we should also prepare to manage the situation better. We need better drainage channels and green spaces Swamps should be left as they are.
We should embrace water harvesting by reducing or removing taxes on plastic water tanks and encouraging every home to harvest water.
I also find it very disturbing that a region that’s blessed with so many fresh water lakes and rivers struggles to deliver pumped water to people’s homes. Why talk of development using parameters like how we have extended power and internet connectivity to many places but not water?
For as long we continue to have floods after a few hours of rain and water scarcity when the sun takes over then we should go slow on the Africa is rising song. After all water is life.