"My life is totally doomed": Flood-ravaged Kiambu women plead for help

Residents of Bosnia in Kahawa Wendani who sought refuge at Kahawa Wendani Primary School on May 01, 2024 after heavy rains flooded their homes. They are now seeking support to rebuild their lives.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Women affected by devastating floods in Kiambu County,  are pleading for recovery funds to rebuild their lives.
  • Despite being disproportionately impacted by climate change disasters, women have historically been excluded from key conversations and decision-making on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
  •  The women's desperate calls underscore the urgency of addressing their plight and ensuring their voices are heard in the fight against climate change.

Women affected by floods in Kiambu County have called on the governor to grant them recovery funds ranging from Sh50,000 to Sh70,000. The women from Kahawa Wendani and Kiu wards say they incurred huge losses due to damaged rental houses, domestic property, and businesses.

"At least I have a mattress, blanket, rice, beans, and maize flour that was donated by the governor (Kimani Wamatangi), but I have no utensils or fuel for cooking," says Julia Kagombe.

Last Friday, according to community health promoters, education officials sent away Julia and at least 75 other women with 102 children, and 47 men flood victims from Kahawa Wendani Primary School, where they were being hosted. Some were housed by empathetic landlords and landladies, friends, and good-hearted area residents whose houses were spared.

Last Sunday, one of the landladies reached out for support to raise money to buy diapers and other necessities for one of the women under her care, who gave birth the previous night.

Julia returned to her house. Although the water has drained, her domestic property was either washed away or irreparable. She says with Sh70,000, she can find a concrete twin room to house her four children, buy school books, uniforms, and shoes, and revive her fast-food business.

Elizabeth Machinga, another victim, says with Sh50,000, she can find a new footing in life. She has four children.

"All I want right now is a house and my business back. I know Sh50,000 won't be enough, but that will be a starting point for me," she says.

"Wherever the governor is sleeping today, let him remember there are women who have no clue whether they are still alive or not because all we can see is darkness. You don't know where to start from. Please help us, governor," she pleads. Elizabeth sold cassava to sustain her four children.

Until April 23, 2024, Beatrice Wairimu was certain her five children would sleep under a mosquito net after taking some milk.

"I had made it a habit that they all take milk before they sleep. I want my children to grow healthy," says Beatrice, a resident of Kahawa Wendani Ward in Kiambu County.

She has five children to raise, aged eight (twins), six, four, and two. Her husband deserted her last year after months of arguments over his failure to support her in raising their children.

"He'd return from construction work empty-handed and drunk, yet we had children to feed. He'd just keep quiet when I asked him how he expected me to shoulder all the responsibilities yet he worked," she says.

"I worked really hard. I sold second-hand clothes and shoes, and ran a fast-food joint. When the business was slow, I'd go out to look for domestic work just to make sure my kids were comfortable. I'd pay rent, the kids' school fees, and buy food."

Now, Beatrice has literally nothing, thanks to the floods that washed away all her belongings. She too needs to revive her business.

"The 6kg gas is gone. The sufurias are gone. Cups are nowhere to be seen. There is nothing left. Tell me just how I'm going to take care of these children," wonders Beatrice, who lived in Bosnia, one of the areas affected by floods in Kiambu County. She and her children are sheltered at Kahawa Wendani Primary School.

All she wants is Sh70,000 to rent a house away from the floods, buy new stock, and restart her fast-food business.

"I don't want to be here for another minute. Being here feels like prison. Instead of hosting me here, give me money to rebuild my life. As it is, my life has stopped. And since I don't have any savings, my life is totally doomed."

Residents walk through water in Bosnia in Kahawa Wendani in Kiambu County, on May 01, 2024 after heavy rains that left the area flooded.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

However, the Kiambu County government can only provide Sh5,000, and only for those whose houses were completely destroyed and would require new places.

According to Kiambu County's director of communication and public relations, Eric Wainaina, those to receive the funds would be registered through the area chiefs, as they are best placed to verify the circumstances of the targeted beneficiaries.

Beatrice is not alone. Across the country, women have lost their merchandise, chicken, dairy goats and cows, food in the store and on the farms, certainly resetting their lives. The flooding due to the heavy rains is a manifestation of climate change, yet women are little involved in making decisions on mitigation and adaptation programming.

But when the climate-related disasters hit, their lives are turned upside down, like Beatrice's case. Since 1995, when the first United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) was held, women have acted as beggars, pushing for equal inclusion in the climate talks where decisions are made, and the women are expected to implement them.

In 2022, a year before the Dubai conference, women said they were tired of being pedestrians in the talks. But it seems their call went unheeded.

"One of the biggest challenges women are facing is exclusion from conversations on climate change," Stella Agara, economic justice and climate action lead at Akina Mama wa Africa, a Pan-African women's rights organization, had said during a January 27, 2022 webinar.

The webinar, 'Climate change: Addressing the Climate Challenge with a Gender Lens,' had been convened by Women Win and New Faces, New Voices-Kenya.

"It is the men who get invited by the local chief to contribute to a (policy) paper. (This paper) is then submitted to COP by men by virtue of the fact they are the majority leaders," she said.

She added: "It is men who sit to make decisions on climate solutions. They then expect the women to implement those solutions. The question is 'where are the women in those conversations?'"

Shadrack Ouma Omondi, Kenya program director for Landesa, a global organization that promotes gender-responsive climate solutions, notes that effective and participatory involvement of women lessens the impacts of climate change.

Reducing the effects, he says, involves sending out early warning messages. He recommends using a universal method of communication, such as short text messages, to reach everyone, including women in remote and low-income areas. He says targeted communication using vernacular radio stations can help women escape the wrath of disasters such as the ongoing floods.

"Floods affect the social network that women rely on to sustain themselves. Unfortunately, when they are thrown off balance, their households suffer too," he asserts.