Floods everywhere but no rains in Makueni villages

Mutisya Kimilu

Mutisya Kimilu, a farmer, assesses the damage done by floods at Kikunduku village in Makueni.

Photo credit: Pius Maundu | Nation

What you need to know:

  • Experts have now linked the flooding to notorious wildfires in Chyulu Hills National Park.
  • The fires destroyed vegetation cover which holds water and or slows down the flow.

It was not the first time for Makueni residents to wake up to a bizarre incident. Their villages were flooded despite lack of rain.

Residents of Kikunduku and Mangelete had witnessed such a deluge before.

The floods affected over 200 residents who border Chyulu Hills National Park, which was ravaged by wildfire two months ago.

The Kenya Metrological Department had left out Makueni when it listed the counties that were prone to floods and the residents could not explain what had happened.

Rendered homeless

Experts have now linked the flooding to notorious wildfires in Chyulu Hills National Park.

The fires destroyed vegetation cover which holds water and or slows down the flow.

According to Kenya Water Towers Agency (KWTA), encroachment of the park aggravates the flooding problem. “Flash flooding around hilly areas comes after heavy rains pound the hillsides,” said Mirriam Mutuku, the KWTA director in charge of Garissa, Kitui, Machakos and Makueni counties.

“Human activities aggravate the regular flash flooding in the regions neighbouring Chyulu Hills. Overgrazing in the park and wildfires leave the land barren. The absence of vegetation cover impairs percolation of rain water. Consequently, surface runoff easily accumulates into a river like mass of water which easily flows downhill,” said Mutuku.

Flood waters were flowing from the hills to the villages. Two months earlier, wildfires that lasted for weeks destroyed more than 100 acres of grasslands at Chyulu Hills National Park. "The floods struck on the night of November 19. Our house had been marooned," Agnes Nthambi told HealthyNation. The mother of six and two of her neighbours at Kikunduku village were rendered homeless after the three-day floods destroyed their shanties.

Although the region experiences such flooding regularly, the latest incident was more pronounced. The residents also lost acres of crops to the floods. "We are staring at famine,” said Mutisya Kimilu, whose farm sits at the bottom of the hills.

Much of the water drains into a massive sinkhole downstream as the overflow finds its way into River Kambu, which in turn drains into River Athi. The destructive floods have been a source of headache for farmers who have for long braved attacks by wild animals on their crops and livestock.

The villages were spared by the government in 1992, when it evicted hundreds of squatters who had encroached the Chyulu Hills water towers.

Twenty-five years later, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Kenya Wildlife Services and the Makueni County government have restored the region. It is the most agriculturally productive belt in the county.

Mitigate disasters

Through the collaboration, an electric fence was installed around the park to keep elephants and other wild animals out.

But the flooding may affect the livelihoods of the farming community which has called the region home for many years.

“To tap the millions of litres of flood waters which risk making this region unproductive and mitigate disasters, the government should build a mega earth dam in the game park,” said Willy Sungwa, a community leader.

Makueni County Commissioner Mohammed Maalim said: “Such a mega dam will also address human-wildlife conflicts as it will be a source of water for the wild animals,” he said.

To mitigate the effects of flash floods in hilly areas, KWTA recommended the prevention of human activities in the regions. The agency further advised those living at the foot of the hills to construct terraces and grow trees. “Trees and terraces will help to reduce the speed of the water flow and hence the effects of the resulting flash floods,” said Mutuku.

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