Kenya is a nation prone to conflicts, slow-onset natural disasters such as droughts and famine, and rapid-onset disasters such as floods, land or mudslides, and disease outbreaks. Its topography makes areas of the country particularly susceptible to natural disasters, with arid and semi-arid lands covering about 89% of the total land mass – home to about 36% of the population. Subnationally there are areas that are regularly affected by droughts, resulting in food insecurity, high levels of malnutrition-related illnesses and deaths, and disruption of livelihoods. Other areas with poor surface water drainage are prone to flooding, resulting in loss of life and property, and outbreaks of waterborne human and animal diseases such as cholera and Rift Valley fever.
It is vital that Kenya is prepared to face these challenges to minimise the impact of disasters on people and livelihoods. While resource allocations for disaster preparedness are increasing, the culture of preparedness in Kenya is lacking. There is no legal framework and no clear coordination across different types of disaster or across actors.
Importantly, there are key things that Kenya is getting right. Links exist between Kenya’s preparedness and international processes: the country has participated in both the Hyogo Framework for Action and Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Furthermore, Kenya contributes the highest annual premium among African countries (US$9 million/KES 900 million) to the Africa Risk Capacity (ARC) – an insurance scheme that covers against the financial impacts of drought. This shows a level of commitment by the Kenyan government to undertake preparedness activities, and it should be considered an excellent starting point from which to build. In fact, Kenya’s preparedness for drought appears to be far better coordinated than the country’s preparedness for flood or disease, and there are lessons to be learnt from it.
Strengths can also be seen at the subnational level, where examples of community preparedness exist. In Mandera the Community Management Disaster Risk Reduction- CMDRR process (a participatory process of disaster risk assessment, planning and implementation) enables beneficiaries to inform preparedness processes, and in Migori County, communities have organised themselves to build resilience. They have done this through ‘community disaster champions’ (individuals who are supported by implementing agencies to train the community on disaster preparedness and response), flood management committees, disaster drills, community awareness meetings and self-help groups run by women. Gender inclusion and participation is another strength at this level.
It is clear, however, that other areas must be improved for disaster-prone Kenya to be well prepared. An important starting point would be to foster greater collaboration between the various actors working on preparedness. In a country with a broad range of risks faced by different people and at different times, there is a need to join up approaches and ensure shared earnings between actors. A multistakeholder approach that includes representatives from human and animal health, academia, beneficiaries and the media should also be adopted to promote the draft disaster risk management law, pushing for disaster preparedness to be enshrined in legislation.
Developing standard operating procedures for multiple types of disasters is another crucial step that should be prioritised by the Kenyan government. Working together with implementing agencies, this will ensure that no matter what the hazard or the location, all people will benefit from the same levels of preparation. Once developed, these procedures should be updated regularly to reflect key learning and changes to the internal and external environment.
At county level, improvements such as better subnational budget allocation and timely disbursement will ensure better preparedness and a stronger response. County government officials will also benefit from knowledge strengthening on disaster and resilience measurement, climate change dynamics and modelling, and disaster response triggers and thresholds.
While there are signs of commitment, further work is required to ensure Kenya is prepared for disasters to minimise their impact on people. International, national and subnational actors have a role to play, and they must now come together to generate the culture of preparedness that is so needed in Kenya.