This is a town in West Pokot covered by a landslide. As you can see, the side of the hill collapsed and the dirt just covered the town. West Pokot is part of the descent from the Kenyan highlands to the bottom of the Rift Valley so there are many steep hillsides which are prone to landslides like this.

Last Friday night here in Lumakanda it poured elephants and rhinoceroses. Then Saturday afternoon it again poured hippopotamuses and buffaloes. I don’t think I ever saw so much rain in under a day. Such a tremendous storm was not confined to our area, but covered a large section of western Kenya. West Pokot county about a hundred miles north of us had three major landslides, killing at least 63 people with many more missing.

When a landslide occurs, there is no possibility of escape as the mud, stones, trees, and everything else slips down faster than anyone can react. There is no running away.

The torrential rains also lead to major flooding. Due to these rains 21 out of the 47 counties in Kenya had landslides and/or flooding. When flooding occurs it is possible to run to higher ground, but houses, livestock, crops, and sometimes people will be swept away.

This is the destroyed bridge across one of the major rivers in West Pokot on the road from Kitale in the Kenyan highlands to Turkana county in the lowlands.

The flooding destroyed the main bridge on the only road to Turkana and on to South Sudan. All traffic was stuck including secondary school students who had just finished sitting for their exams. There was water, water, everywhere, but not a safe drop to drink. Food was scarce. People had to sleep on the damp, dark ground. The only movement north was via government helicopters.

The flood waters raised the risk for contacting malaria and water born diseases such as dysentery and cholera.  

Normally at the end of November the short rainy seasons is trailing off with only little or modest rainfall. What happened?

Earlier in the year two unusual cyclones (hurricanes) had for the first time ever, hit southern Africa, one after the other. This was due to the fact that the western Indian Ocean was two degrees centigrade or five degree Fahrenheit warmer than normal. As a result more water evaporated leading to the cyclones. Here in Kenya these cyclones blocked the northward march of the rainy season resulted in the start of the long raining season being postponed for a month. The height of the rainy season here in western Kenya is April and the rains this year didn’t start until the end of the month. Much of the area now being flooded was in severe drought during the early part of this year. Too little water then and now too much water.

The Indian ocean is still abnormally warm. More warm water evaporates. This moisture has to fall somewhere. This extra rainfall has produced flooding not only in Kenya, but also Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan. Ironically, as usual, southern Africa – Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and elsewhere – are experiencing severe droughts.

Is this year just a one-off extraordinary event? Will the western Indian Ocean often heat up as it has this year? Is it a harbinger of a new “normal”? On a deeper level, what has made the Indian Ocean to heat up? Is this just another indication of global warming as the oceans absorb the extra heat being generated by the increasing amounts of CO2 and other heat trapping gases in the atmosphere?

Who is more responsible for this increase in CO2 emissions – Americans or Kenyans? Who is suffering the most from the consequences of these increased emissions – Americans or Kenyan? Is this fair? Just? Right?


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David Zarembka

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Reports from Kenya: www.davidzarembka.com/

Email: davidzarembka@gmail.com