Last week, heavy rains brought the Kenyan capital, Nairobi to a standstill. According to media reports, this was possibly the worst the city has experienced in recent years. Scenes from flooded parts of Nairobi such as busy roads and offices shared on social media exposed the poor drainage and cluttered infrastructure development many African cities are grappling with.
Nairobi’s case is not isolated. For several years, Kampala has been going through what our Kenyan neighbours went through last week. Rains in Kampala spell disaster for motorists and those who reside in flood-prone neighbourhoods such as Bwaise. Several lives have been lost as a result of heavy rains and flooding in Kampala over the years.
City authorities need to have a critical look at the infrastructure developments and drainage system because they know where the problem is. In Nairobi, for instance, many motorists were stranded for several hours because some areas were cut off by the floods.
In Kampala, everyone knows what follows a downpour – floods, transport crisis, submerged houses, cutoff schools and offices, and deaths. What is baffling is that we seem to have accepted to leave with this mess. Worse still, we are never prepared for these disasters, yet it has become a rainy season ritual.
Deaths and destruction caused by floods could be avoided if we learnt lessons from past incidents and used early warning systems to handle the situation better. And the examples are several. We know which river in the country often bursts its banks; we know which bridges have collapsed; we know which areas are flood-prone; and, crucially, we know when the rainy season starts.
For instance, weather experts have already warned that we should prepare for El Nino – long rains usually characterised by flooding and its related dangers such as landslides. For people in mountainous areas where landslides have buried villages in recent years, this is worrying. Beyond government’s usual warnings that people in such areas “should watch out”, or “move to safer places”, a comprehensive response to this problem must be found.
Heavy rains have had too many devastating consequences in this country: Landslides in Mt Elgon region, dreadful floods in Kasese and other parts of the country, especially Kampala. Surely, the authorities cannot sit back and watch this happen year after year.
And we are part of the problem: We have tampered with nature by cutting trees and cultivating on mountain slopes, constructing in wetlands, and littering drainage systems.
The flooding menace must be sorted. The bigger responsibility lies with the authorities to devise a long-term solution. Ugandans have lived with this problem for far too long.