It's a dog's life for Tana River survivors, months after El Nino floods

Khadija Mavuna and her husband Athman Komora during the interview in Laza Village, Tana River County.

Photo credit: Stephen Oduor | Nation Media Group

Two months after the El Niño floods, survivors in Tana River County are still living in misery. Most have gone from being displaced and living in camps to being homeless and struggling to find food and shelter.

Those camping in schools have been asked to leave, but they are not allowed to return home as the county government has warned that those who risk their lives in such places will not be helped in the future.

So they roam the streets in search of food, knock on doors begging for manual jobs and beg for a place to sleep when the sun goes down.

"I live a life of shame, like I never had a home, yet a shell of my house stares at me every day. All materials are gone. I'm hoping for a better day," said Khadija Mavuna.

During the day, Mavuna wanders the town looking for manual jobs to feed her three children. She and her husband, Athman Komora, have a routine for looking for work. While she heads west at sunrise, her husband heads east to find a job that will pay him enough to buy a sheet of iron.

In the evening, they meet in their wrecked house, which stands only on frames, to tell each other how the day went before going their separate ways to beg for a place to sleep.

"It is not a life we looked forward to. Before the floods, we lived a normal life. My children went to school and all I had to worry about was their food and school supplies," she said.

Her husband is a broken man, and his face tells a story of despair. Every day that passes with his children living like animals eats away at his life, but he must try to rebuild their lives.

"I have to build them a new house. It requires money and that means I have to work extra hard. I stay separately from them at the end of the day because I don't want them to see or hear me crying at night," Komora said.

He has built a polythene shack on a farm where he now works as a gardener near the River Tana, and is looking forward to moving in with his family.

The shack is his temporary solution to their homelessness as he continues to search for building materials to rebuild his house and give his family a home.

"It will be better than nothing here, better than hopping from one veranda to another until we can rebuild our house. I hope it's soon," Komora said.

Esha Kokani, a widow, has been begging from house to house, her mat the only thing she has left after the floods.

Living on the brink of death, asthmatic and without an inhaler, she is learning to cope amid a storm of misery.

All that remains of her house are the edges of the foundation.

"This space you see here, this was my house. These logs you see standing are the only evidence that there existed a structure in this place. Everything else went with the water," she said.

Kokani has been squatting in her neighbour's house since the government asked her to leave the IDP camp. Since then, her life has been an unhappy gamble, hoping that one day help will come.

"I have nowhere to live. I have become a bother to neighbours and a burden to my relatives. Each day they see me as a nuisance and so I have decided to turn to God," she said.

Her children are scattered all over the place, the grown-ups are staying with friends, while her grandchildren are staying with relatives.

Hundreds of survivors are in almost the same situation, and while the government has banned them from returning to the site of the disaster, it has offered no way out.

Human rights activist James Rashid said the government is insensitive to the plight of the survivors.

"They chased them from where they camped and did not give them another place. At the same time, they have warned them against going back home and are not providing alternative land. That is an abuse of human rights," he said.

Rashid reiterated the need for urgent intervention, noting that the situation was getting worse by the day. He appealed to well-wishers to help the survivors rebuild before the April rains.

"These people need iron sheets, bedding, cement and utensils. The government has failed them, but I believe there is humanity out there. As for land to settle these people, we are going to force the county government to provide it," he said.

More than 20,000 people are still living in some camps that have yet to be closed in parts of Tana River County.

Survivors are waiting for the county and national governments to provide them with an alternative place to settle.

Tana River Governor Dhadho Godhana said areas have been identified to settle some of the people in camps and the Disaster Risk Management Committee will soon give instructions to the survivors.

In the meantime, he is appealing for support to build basic infrastructure such as education centres, toilets and water reservoirs in the affected areas.

"We need a lot of money to settle these people because if they have to stay there, they will need social amenities that [will cost] about Sh2 billion," he said.