Houses marooned by water from Lake Victoria on December 16, 2020.

A house marooned by water from Lake Victoria on December 16, 2020.

| George Odiwuor | Nation Media Group

Families in Homa Bay still displaced due to L. Victoria overflow

It is a Sunday morning and 70-year-old Jenipher Akeyo has just woken up ready for the day’s activities.

She had spent her night sleeping on the floor of the Christian International Centre in Wang’ Chieng’ Location in Rachuonyo North Sub-County, which has been her home for at least nine months.

Part of her plans for the day is to take her bedding outside the church building so that worshippers can have ample space to pray.

This has been Ms Akeyo’s home since mid-2019. She moved to the church after the water level in Lake Victoria started rising in 2019.

She lives in the church with her family of two sons, two daughters-in-law and five grandchildren.

Her house and those of her sons collapsed in 2019 when water from the rising lake clogged their compound.

Many years

This family, together with many others from the sub-county, have been victims of floods for many years.

Every time it rains, more than 3,000 people from Rachuonyo North Sub-County leave their homes to seek refuge on higher grounds.

Some families relocate to schools while others move to churches and relatives’ homes.

It is a recurrent problem for residents in this area.

At least once every year, families in Rachuonyo North and other flood-prone areas like Kochia in Rangwe converge in different camping sites where they rely on food donations from government and other well-wishers.

When the rain subsides, affected families go back to their homes to rebuild their houses and start life afresh.

It is a cycle that has been going on for decades until early last year when floods superseded the normal levels.

Flooded houses

River Miriu, which has been the major contributor of floods in Homa Bay County, broke its banks and flooded houses in Wang’ Chieng.

A new phenomenon was also being witnessed in the area which caught many by surprise --the rising water levels in Lake Victoria.

As scientists try to figure out why the water has risen to unprecedented levels, some families like Akeyo’s continue to wonder where they will go.

Water has flooded parcels of farmlands in the sub-county and rendered many homeless.

According to Wang’ Chieng’ Location Chief Peter Agunga, at least 35 families in his area have not gone back to their homes after their houses collapsed last year.

“Apart from residential homes, rising water levels also affected several businesses. Affected families had built houses from mud which could not withstand water saturation,” he says.

Those who went back to their homes are using unconventional methods to protect their houses from water, including construction of dykes to control water movement.

Better life

For families like Ms Akeyo’s, however, life in the church is much better and cheaper because she has lost several houses within her compound.

She first lost her house in January 2020 and a few days after that, her son's house collapsed.

She moved to Osodo primary school where she stayed for a while before going back to her home to rebuild.

“The second house collapsed when the water level in my compound kept on rising. That was when I decided to move to the church,” she says.

At the church, the family sleeps on mattresses placed on papyrus mats.

Houses marooned by water from Lake Victoria on December 16, 2020.

Houses marooned by water from Lake Victoria on December 16, 2020.

Photo credit: George Odiwuor | Nation Media Group

In a neighbouring church, another family struggles to make ends meet.

Pamela Atieno, a widow and a mother of two, calls Church of Kenya her home.

This is where she has lived for one year after her house collapsed and her home was marooned by floods.

She moved to the place of worship with her bedding, utensils and cutlery which were some of the basic items she would need to survive.

“I cook using firewood outside the church building. I am not sure whether I will go back to my home because the lake does not show any signs of receding,” Ms Atieno says.

Living in churches comes with a lot of challenges, including lack of privacy, especially for couples.

Better option

Some families displaced by water opted to rent houses in local trading centres, which they found to be a better option albeit costly.

Peter Shikuku has rented two houses where he stays with his three wives.

He is the Beach Management Unit (BMU) chairman in Chuowe beach.

He had a simple life in the past and could easily support his large family.

“I own a piece of land where I stayed with my family. Paying rent was foreign to me. Today, some of my children are being supported by relatives because my income cannot cater for all their needs,” Mr Shikuku says.

After his home was marooned by water and his houses destroyed, the beach official decided to seek refuge within the trading centre where he pays Sh6,000 in rent.

He sold his cattle to some of his neighbours at throw-away prices to enable him meet the cost of shifting residence.

Today, he has difficulties accessing his home and office, which have all been swallowed by water.

“All documents that contain information about fishermen that were within the office have all been destroyed. It got to a point where snakes were living in my drawers,” he says.

Sites destroyed

At Chuowe beach, boat owners are having difficulties docking their vessels after their landing sites were destroyed.

Affected families appealed for help from the government to help them resettle on their land as they wait for flood mitigation measures to be implemented.

Grace Anyago says children from displaced families are becoming sick more often.

Most of them are malnourished due to limited food supply.

“Our farms that supported agriculture have all been flooded. We now depend on fishing which is also competitive,” Ms Anyango says.

In 2018, the families in Wang’ Chieng’ presented a memorandum to Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa with an appeal to mitigate floods.

They said they had become tired of living in camps and depending on food donations from the government to survive.

Willis Okeyo says most people in the affected area depend on crop farming as their source of income.

But agriculture in most parts is now impossible.

A menace

Mr Okeyo, a local environmental activist, says floods have been a menace in the area for many generations and the government has failed to address the problem.

“The government recently addressed floods in Budalang’i by building dykes that helped control water spillage from the river. We are appealing for the same in Rachuonyo North,” he says.

Homa Bay County Commissioner Moses Lilan says his office is aware of the tribulations the families are undergoing and that the government is working on ways to address the problem.

“Floods have been a perennial problem in Homa Bay County. We are focused on helping the affected families on an interim basis like provision of food and medicine as we look for a long-term solution to the problem,” he says.

The administrator added that a team had already visited the flooded areas in Rachuonyo North and made a report that will be used to find a solution to the problem.

“The solution to the problem should be a collaborative effort between the county and the national government,” Mr Lilan says.