Youth Group in Kenya Building Resilience of Kibera Community against Flooding

By Sharon Atieno

With people living in informal settlements in urban areas being more prone to extreme weather events, such as floods and extreme heat, than those living in formal settlements, early weather information could be a timely intervention to help them cope.

The Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) working in liaison with the Kenya Meteorological Department in 2018 came up with such an arrangement in a project dubbed, DARAJA (Developing Risk Awareness through Joint Action) to help residents in the informal settlements of Kibera cope with flooding and other weather events.

A wall mural showing how the DARAJA project works in Kibera.

According to the World Bank’s Climate Knowledge Portal, flooding is one of the most dominant natural hazards in Kenya at 52%, followed by epidemics (35%) and drought (15%) among others.

In informal settlements like Kibera where there is poor drainage system, rain as little as 10 millimeters or less can lead to runoff and flash floods, explained Dr. Richard Muita, Director Public Weather Services, KMD in a previous interview.

The DARAJA project was meant to bridge the gap between scientists producing weather and climate information, and people on the ground not being able to understand and take preventative action on all the scientific-technical information being produced by the meteorological department.

To make the information more understandable and easy to interpret, some adjustments made included changing the layout and language of the weather forecast, using different weather icons, and having an advisory section.

A sample of the new forecast.

The weather information would then be shared with a group of 22 youth leaders who had been chosen from different areas of Kibera that are prone to flooding- Makina, Sokomoko (Gatwekera/ Kisumu Ndogo), Andolo (Lindi/ Silanga), and Laini Saba.

These leaders interpret the information and break it down in a simple language that all the community members can understand. Then they share the synthesized information through word of mouth and various social and digital media platforms, such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and SMS.

Some areas like Lindi and Sokomoko are situated near Ngong-Motoine River, one of the three major river systems in the Nairobi River basin, with an upstream catchment area of 4500ha.

Data estimates collected by KDI in 2018 suggest that around 22,000 Kibera residents live within the 30-meter buffer of the Ngong River.

For such areas, an additional intervention was added- flags. When the flag is red, it indicates that the rains will be heavy and might lead to flooding due to the river bursting its banks. When the flag is green, there is no danger.

The red flag towering in Lindi area of Kibera.

Although the project ended in 2020 and KDI withdrew funding, the youth leaders still forge on with the little resources they have to ensure that their community remains resilient.

According to Christopher Aboch, Makina team leader, after sending a proposal to KDI, they got funding which they used to register as a community-based organization (CBO).

“Being that while working with the DARAJA project we had shot several short videos of our activities in the community, we enrolled the videos in a certain competition which we won,” explains Aboch. “We used the money that we won to set up a cleaning services enterprise complete with cleaning machines.”

The money they get from the enterprise, they use part of it to help with communicating the weather information and circulating it among the community members. Part of it is also used to provide for their various needs being that a majority of them are jobless and earn meager wages.

“I get the weather message mostly once a week. Sometimes, Aboch and another youth leader go around the community telling us how the weather will be and especially if it will rain, they advise us to clean the drains,” notes Lucy Njoki, a resident of Makina and mother of four.

“When I hear the message, I start preparing myself by putting a sandbag on my doorstep which acts as a barrier against the water. I also spray insecticide in my house because when it rains, there are usually a lot of mosquitoes.”

Resident of kibera

Her house is just adjacent to a drain, so she also makes an effort to ensure that the drain is clean to allow the water to run smoothly. But sometimes the ravaging rain waters come carrying rubbish from elsewhere and instead of the water flowing, the rubbish blocks the drain. This has led to her house being flooded severely.

Daniel Abunga, another Makina resident, used to receive the messages on a weekly basis before the project ended, however, nowadays, he only receives it through word of mouth and also through the internet. This, he says, helps him to prepare himself and his school-going children.

Also, knowing the weather helps him and his neighbors to clean their drain by removing the rubbish to prevent it from flooding and in turn flooding their houses.

Daniel Abunga, pointing at a drain that causes blockage of their own drain when it floods

In Sokomoko, there used to be a flag but heavy rains and strong winds wore the flag out until it was no more. Meshack Ngaira, whose house was located some few feet from the river, has had to move to another location after ravaging floods destroyed their residents.

“I used to rely on the flag but now it’s no longer there, so now I rely on the clouds. When I look at them I can tell if it will rain heavily or not,” notes 60-year-old Ngaira. “Most times I also just use the radio since I don’t receive the messages.”

Ngaira showing where he used to live before the floods forced him to move.

In contrast to the situation in Sokomoko, in Lindi, the flag is still standing. Residents from the area like Veronica Ajiambo are benefitting from it.

When the flag has been raised to red, we know there is a risk of rains, this may make the bridge we use to cross impassable, so we have to be on guard, she notes. But when it is green, we know things are ok.

Besides the flag, Ajiambo receives messages on her phone informing her of rains that may cause flooding and also excess heat. She receives the messages at least once a week.

“When I receive the message, we start preparing for the rains by buying warm clothes for the children, picking them up early from school, cleaning the drains, and even repairing the leaking roofs,” she explains.

However, she and others, who receive the messages, note that unlike before, the messages do not come as regularly as they used to.

Nancy Atieno, who used to receive the messages on her phone, complains that after 2020, she has not been receiving any messages. Though her house was repaired and is no longer prone to floods, not getting the weather information is not good for her food vending business.

“The message was helping me to properly plan myself. Nowadays, I can just come from home and when I arrive here and start doing my work, all of a sudden it starts pouring. I am forced to leave the business and go to the house and fetch an umbrella. By the time I come back, the salad I had prepared is full of water making me incur losses that day,” she explains.

Nancy Atieno at her business premises in Makina area.

According to the community leaders they had to scale down on communication (from an almost daily routine to a weekly routine) because it became expensive as they have to dip into their own pockets to buy the airtime which they use to share the information.

“Though we get information from KMD on a daily basis, we are not able to send it daily. We wait for the Friday one and share it with the members of the community,” explains Aboch.

“As community leaders, we all have a number of people we are supposed to share the information with. But if you don’t have the airtime or internet bundles to share the information, you’re forced to use word of mouth which reaches just a few people around.”

He adds that with the project coming to an end, it has not been possible to reach the huge numbers he was reaching before. He now works with a small number which he can handle comfortably.

Esther Wanja, the leader of Lindi, agrees that because most of them are jobless, it is very difficult to keep sending the messages regularly.

Also, she notes that inadequate funding has hindered some of their activities like creating posters and flyers to announce the coming of rainy seasons as well as organizing outreach activities to create awareness on the weather in schools and other public spaces within Kibera.

Sokomoko area situated near Ngong River where there used to be a flag (the green post, near the green board)

Martha Ayuya, a leader in Katwekera, notes that without the red and green flags in the area, they are only left with doing door-to-door messages because some residents do not know how to read and others claim not to have phones.

She also notes that in case of the wrong prediction, some of the residents begin to doubt her, making it difficult for them to accept the forecast she gives afterward.

All the leaders agree that there has been a change in behavior, with residents being more receptive and responding positively to the weather information.

“People are now more receptive to the weather information with some even doing follow-ups by themselves to find out how the weather will be,” Aboch notes.

This story was first published on Science Africa

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