Why thousands displaced by Lake Baringo may never go back to their homes

Jackline Koyala, a mother of seven at a temporary camp in Uwanja Ndege Village on the outskirts of Marigat town on June 24. She is among the residents bordering Lake Baringo who were displaced in May 2021 after their houses and farms were submerged by the swollen lake.


What you need to know:

  • Together with other displaced families, they settled at Uwanja Ndege on the outskirts of Marigat town.
  • Like many other families that were affected, Mr Tiren has never been able to return home despite water receding in most areas.

In May 2021, Josphat Tiren, 58, was forced to vacate his home of many years in Leswa village, Baringo South, adjacent to Lake Baringo after water levels rose to dangerous levels. An estimated 10,000 people in his village and adjacent areas were affected and displaced. Their houses were completely swallowed by Lake Baringo and they sought refuge in temporary camps in safer villages on higher grounds. They remain stuck here, 26 months later.

Besides his home, Mr Tiren, a father of six, lost his goats. His five acres of land that were under maize production were marooned in the lake water. Together with other displaced families, they settled at Uwanja Ndege on the outskirts of Marigat town. Like many other families that were affected, Mr Tiren has never been able to return home despite water receding in most areas.

This is because climate experts have warned that it is not advisable for locals who were displaced to go back because the lake could swell again.

A fisherman paddles a traditional raft made from reeds past one of the submerged buildings of Soi Lodge on the shores of Lake Baringo on October 6, 2020


Some of the displaced families practiced large-scale irrigated farming and lived in fairly nice homes before the flooding. They now live in dilapidated and temporary tents, struggling to make ends meet. In May 2021, water levels in Lake Baringo had increased from 236 km square in 2015 to approximately 278 km square, posing a threat to residents and their investments.

The drastic rise in water levels saw more than 1,000 houses and buildings on the shores of the lake submerged in water. Among the worst-hit villages were Loruk, Noosukro, Kokwa Island, Kampi Samaki, Sokotei, Lorok, Kiserian, Ruggus, Loitip, Mukutani Ndogo, Ng’ambo, Sintaan, Salabani, Ilng’arua and Longeiwan.

According to Lake Baringo senior warden Jackson Komen, although the lake waters have receded by approximately 30 metres, 80 per cent of the houses are still inside the lake. “By looking at the shrubs and houses that had earlier been swallowed by the flood waters, the lake has receded by a depth of approximately two and half metres,” he said. “Although some houses in the villages that were affected by floods are out of water, it is not safe for the owners to go back,” cautioned Mr Komen.

For Mr Tiren, this was not the first time floods were displacing him from his home. In 2013 and 2019, he moved to Loropil villages but returned home after the water receded. “The lake waters have receded by a few meters although many homes, including mine, are still underwater. I have pitched camp with my six children in a temporary tent in Uwanja Ndege village since May 2021 as I contemplate on my next move, though I have nowhere to go.

“I was a farmer practising irrigated agriculture, but after the displacement, I have been forced to rely on menial jobs, including charcoal burning to feed my family,” he explained how the climate crisis altered his life. The father of six years yearns to have a place to call home. He said he has been reduced to a pauper after losing almost everything to flooding.

“I have relocated more than four times due to floods, moving from one village to the other. This time I will not go back to Leswa village even if the water recedes because I fear that the water levels may rise again. Let me just live in the tent until I get money to buy another land elsewhere,” he noted. Also in the same predicament is Ms Cecilia Sunguna, who now lives in a temporary camp with her five children.

Ruma Naiweti at her shanty house in Uwanja Ndege Village on October 22.She was displaced in May 2020. PHOTO | FLORAH KOECH


She was displaced by the rising water levels in Ng’ambo village, which destroyed residents’ homes and property, including Ng’ambo primary and Girls' high schools. “I have no hope of returning to my village. Some homes are out of water but who knows about tomorrow? We have learned through experience, this time I will not take chances,” she said.

Like Mr Tiren, she too has previously been displaced and forced to relocate to safer villages when it flooded during rainy seasons. Climate and energy expert Jackson Kinyanjui said with the short rainfall season approaching in October, November and December, the rains are expected to increase. “They cannot go back because that is an area that is not supposed to be occupied since it was underwater at some point. It is the humans who encroached that space and not the other way round,” cautioned Mr Kinyanjui.

Most of the people who were displaced do not have tents and did not salvage anything from their marooned homes. It forced them to use tattered sacks to erect structures for shelter.