Why so much noise in Kenya about current rains which are not heavy as El Niño
In Kenya, “El Niño” rains of 1997-98 were on average 280% to 2522% above the long rains mean rainfall of 250 millimeters, in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) and over 1000 millimeters in the highlands. The current heavy rains have averaged 136% and 290% of the short rains mean rainfall of 180 millimeters, in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands and over 800 millimeters in the highlands. Let us find out why there is so much noise about current rains which were not as heavy as El Niño?
The current rains pounding Kenya have caused life-threatening conditions in most of the impacted counties and major urban centers. Hours of continuous heavy rains have triggered massive landslides in Western and parts of Eastern and North-Eastern Kenya, placing many vulnerable communities at risk. Predictions as to when the rains will cease include:
In the Northern region counties rainfall is likely to cease during the fourth week of December 2019 to first week of January 2020. For the counties in the Coastal Strip, Nairobi and Central, South Eastern region, Central Rift region, Western Highlands, Lake Basin Region rainfall is likely to cease during the first to second week of January 2020. Finally, in Narok, Bomet and Migori counties rainfall is likely to continue into January 2020.
What have been the impacts of the rains so far?
Since the onset of these unusual rains, flooding has affected over 160,000 people. The government says 120 people have been killed in flooding and mudslides during these unusually severe rains. Banks of dams of major sources of electricity supply like Masinga and others along the Tana River have broken threatening the collapse of electric supply in the country. Additionally, the Nairobi city main water supply, Ndakaini Dam, is threatened with untold damage, from these rains and this is likely to create a major water crisis in Nairobi and its environs. Bridges too, in some parts of the country, have been washed away cutting off road communications between parts of the country. We have also witnessed how “dare devil” matatu drivers, propelled by their greed to make money, have risked lives of many passengers as they drive across flooded roads. In some cases, the vehicles have been washed off the roads by the swift water streams resulting in death of passengers.
But what is the cause of these rains which have resulted in so much havoc?
Kenya has two rainy seasons linked to the movement north and south of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). This is a zone of heavy rain and thunderstorms where north-easterly and south-easterly trade winds meet.
This zone of wet weather moves south over Kenya in the months of October to December and is known as the “short rains”. So, we should expect rain to fall at this time of year in Kenya. But the rains this season are far heavier than usual.
So why has it been so wet?
Weather experts say the rains have been enhanced by a phenomenon called the Indian Ocean Dipole which, when positive, can cause a rise in water temperatures in the Indian Ocean of up to 2C. This leads to higher evaporation rates off the East African coastline and this water then falls inland. The term dipole means two “poles” or two areas of differences. The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) measures differences in sea-surface temperatures between the western Indian Ocean (western pole) and the eastern Indian Ocean south of Indonesia (eastern pole).
The IOD is the Indian Ocean counterpart of the more well-known Pacific El Niño and La Niña.
It is normal to see warming in the western Indian Ocean relating to a positive IOD. This leads to enhanced rainfall across parts of East Africa and droughts across Australia.
The increased temperature and moisture is brought inland by a reversal of the winds near the equator, strengthening the ITCZ and leading to larger and more widespread storm clouds.
This year’s sea temperature difference between the western and eastern Indian Ocean has been record-breaking and rainfall in parts of Kenya has been much higher than normal.
The relationship between the IOD and climate change and patterns of rainfall remains the subject of research, partly because the IOD itself was only identified in 1999.
In summary damages by current rains, which are similar to the El Niño damages of 1997-1998 rains, include:
- Non-urban or rural roads damage including: affected bridges; culverts and sections of the road washed away; flooded sections or areas made impassable through saturation of unengineered soil; or earth road sections where much of the original drainage has been lost;
- Urban Roads and Drainage including: entire sections of road washed away; sections of road with extensive potholes rendering the roads virtually impassable; and undermined road drainage structures such as culverts
- Water supplies and sanitation including: varying levels of damage to treatment plants; intake works; pumping stations; boreholes/wells; storage tanks; pipelines and small dams;
- Health Sector damage which includes mainly structural problems to heath facilities as a result of being washed away during the height of the rains or having been extensively submerged during the flooding.
The El Niño Emergency Project was established under the Office of the President to implement rehabilitation work of infrastructure and facilities damaged by excessive rains of 1997-98. Therefore, the Government of Kenya in partnership with the World Bank (IDA), the African Development Bank and the Agence Francoise De Developemente funded the rehabilitation of the damaged facilities – the roads, water systems and health facilities. Additionally, the donors commissioned a consultant, of which the author of Life Lessons of an Immigrant was a key member, to carry out a Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of the El Niño Emergency Project. Find out what the study findings and outputs in Life Lessons of an Immigrant by John Makilya. Get your copy of the book by logging on:
For more details on the book please visit https://johnmakilya.com. However, those who wish to get an autographed copy of the book please call or text the author at 617-653-8386.