Kenya’s short rains season has been particularly bad this year, resulting in more floods and mudslides than usual. The country has two rainy seasons, and the short rains season is supposed to occur between October and December. This year, however, increased evaporation rates off the East African coastline has caused more water than usual to fall inland. According to Cyrus Oguna, a government spokesman, around 17,000 people have been displaced and 11,000 livestock have been swept away by the waters. Additionally, there have been at least 132 casualties of the floods and landslides so far this season.
While flooding is a common occurrence each year, the country does not have the infrastructure in place to deal with the magnitude of this year’s rainfall, and this problem is compounded by an increasing urban population and poorly planned cities. Aid delivery has been made difficult by damage to roads and bridges, and doctors are also concerned about the spread of waterborne diseases. While the military is working to repair damaged roads, its efforts are not moving quickly enough as people complain about the lack of food caused by the delays in governmental assistance.
While Kenya is not a failed state, it is a weak one and its inability to properly invest in disaster prevention and relief programs are due to its weakness. Placing 50th out of 141 states in a Brookings index of the 141 weakest states, Kenya’s struggling economy prevents it from providing social and economic security to its citizens. In 2017, Kenya’s GDP (PPP) per capita of $3,292 caused it to place 152nd out of 189 countries on an index of countries by GDP per capita.
Prevention Web describes weak governance zones as “investment environments in which public sector actors are unable or unwilling to assume their roles and responsibilities in protecting rights, providing basic services, public services, and ensuring that public sector management is efficient and effective.” The government’s failure in these areas then leads to more failures in political, economic, and civic institutions. Poor disaster response is a typical feature of low-income countries which do not have the funds to adequately address the issue.
Although flooding is a yearly occurrence, Kenya continually spends more on disaster response than reduction, despite the fact that “a dollar invested in disaster risk reduction can save two to 10 dollars in disaster response and recovery cost.” While the government is working towards investing in disaster prevention and response (with Nairobi County setting aside $1.9 million to improve drainage), there are still gaps in providing shelter for those who have been displaced, restoring damaged farmland and infrastructure, and restoring the livelihoods of those who have been affected.
Flood barriers, concrete walls, natural flood management, sustainable drainage are all techniques employed by the UK to prevent floods. The UK spent $894 million in 2018-2019 on flood and coastal erosion risks and estimates that $1.2 billion a year worth of damages was prevented by their barriers. Comparatively, in 2018, Kenya spent $1.89 million on improving the drainage system and mapping out flood-prone areas in order to better respond to flash floods. $320,000 went towards prevention measures while the majority of that money was placed in an emergency fund which was used for response efforts. A 2016 report by Development Initiatives found that no legal frameworks are in place to guide the country’s disaster preparedness, and there is very little political desire to prioritise preparedness. While there is available data on weather information, this data rarely informs decision-making and the country lacks a culture of preparedness.
Implications for Kenya
A weak state oftens creates internal legitimacy problems (for example, the civil conflict in Yemen and the rise of Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria where the state does not have much presence). When a state cannot perform its basic functions, the people begin to question its purpose, taking on peaceful actions such as protests and strikes or violent ones such as insurgiences and the creation of militias. While Kenyans may be used to the poor governmental response to floods, the worsening conditions might create a new national attitude towards the government. People could turn to rebel groups such as al-Shaabab for the services that they cannot receive from the state, especially in those regions that receive the least attention from the state.
Considering the drastic increase in rainfall this year and the fact that this trend is expected to continue, I wonder how Kenya will respond. The lack of adequate funding for disaster relief is not only due to the lack of political desire, but also to a lack of means. In a situation where the state begins to feel its legitimacy being questioned, politicians attitudes might change towards providing more funding; however, that does not change the fact that the country lacks the means to adequately respond to the problem. While Kenya is not currently spending as much as it could on disaster relief, if it were to spend as much as it possibly could, would that be enough to curb the civil unrest that the inadequate response creates? Will Kenyans be satisfied by knowing that the government is trying its best given the means or will insurgencies continue? Is it possible for a weak state to ever adequately respond to natural disasters?