Kenya: from saving lives to saving livelihoods

By Anthony Mwangi and Everlyn Kemunto, Kenya Red Cross

The Kenyan Red Cross Society is embarking on a major livelihood recovery programme to support farming and fishing families in districts that were hard hit by the massive floods at the end of 2006 - when they were still trying to recover from devastating drought that plagued the country earlier in the year. The targeted families live in districts in the provinces of Garissa, Tana River and Kwale.

Having met the objectives set out in the flood response programme the society sat down with the International Federation's regional delegation in Nairobi and Kenyan government agencies, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Fishery and Livestock Development and the Arid Lands Resource Management Project to decide on the next steps. A comprehensive assessment of the situation in the affected communities was undertaken.

"The objective of the assessment was to define the impact and magnitude of the floods on the livelihoods and food security of the affected people and recommend appropriate relief and recovery strategies aimed at restoring those livelihoods," says Mr. Ahmed Abdi, the acting Head of Disaster Preparedness and Response at the Kenya Red Cross.

The assessment team recommended a 3-5 year food security support programme to build the resilience of the affected communities. The team also recommended the introduction of alternative livelihoods suitable to the affected areas and strengthening early warning systems, particularly for floods and conflicts.

An international appeal - essentially a revision of the floods appeal - is now expected shortly to enable Kenya Red Cross and its partners to support the farming communities through the provision of seeds, fertilisers, farm tools and irrigation pumps, while the fishing communities will be supported with fishing gear, training and cooling facilities. The Kenya Red Cross would also provide some health, water and sanitation assistance, as well as building materials to the families for the construction of shelter. For Kenya Red Cross, this marks a paradigm shift from the usual saving of lives in the numerous floods responses, to saving the livelihoods of the affected people.

"Floods have reduced food production levels and damaged both annual and perennial crops," adds Mr. Abdi Shakur, the Kenya Red Cross representative in the assessment mission. "Food stocks, agricultural tools and irrigation pumps of the people were swept away," he noted.

"The price of food has soared beyond the purchasing capacity of many families, forcing the people to change their food consumption patterns, and thereby causing adverse impacts on their nutritional status," says Mr. Shakur.

Urgent measures need to be undertaken to avert a health catastrophe as water contamination from collapsed sanitation and water facilities has resulted in a sharp decline in sanitary and hygiene conditions. "Returning residents have complained of stomach aches and diarrhoea due to this," said Mr. Shakur. Increase in water-borne diseases has compounded already high rates of malnutrition.

The floods that affected Kenya - and several other countries in Eastern Africa during the last quarter of 2006 - was termed 'a mild el Niño' and certainly lived up to its billing! The October-December 2006 short rains in Kenya caused uncharacteristically massive flooding well into January this year. Overflowing rivers burst their banks and affected some 723,000 people in 32 districts six provinces across Kenya. The flooding was aggravated by the over-flow of hydroelectricity generating dams along the Tana River in the country's eastern part.

The floods submerged entire villages and left thousands of people displaced. Scores lost their lives, property and livestock. Crops and farmland were destroyed and irrigation equipment and area infrastructure was washed away or severely damaged. Thousands of latrines were destroyed and water sources contaminated, thereby increasing the potential for outbreaks of water-borne disease. For weeks, several areas were marooned with roads links cut off. Fears of food shortages added to the already devastating humanitarian situation.

In its response, the Kenya Red Cross Society targeted 563,000 most vulnerable people in 32 districts for four months with food and non-food items, as well as with health, water and sanitation intervention. This followed an international appeal issued by the International Federation on behalf of Kenya Red Cross in December 2006.

Emergency Response Units (ERUs) from Spanish, Finnish, German and Australian/Japanese Red Cross societies responded and set up health camps and water treatment plants in Bura, Hola and Garsen in December 2006. The British Red Cross logistics ERU team conducted training, warehousing and port clearance of ERU equipment.

At the end of the flooding period in late January 2007, many families were a lot better due to the relief intervention of the Red Cross teams. In February 2007, relief intervention wound up, as flood waters had receded substantially for the internally displaced people (IDPs) to go back to their homes.

Back home, the IDPs were faced with a sordid tale of misery. Their homes were washed away and crops, farmlands and irrigation equipment destroyed. Many families were left weak and unable to fend for themselves as their only sources of income were destroyed. The task now before the Movement partners in Kenya is to assist the communities get back on their feet and face the future.