Katy Fentress, Nairobi Community Manager
Just before dawn on May 13, the Nairobi River broke through a dam upstream from the city and proceeded to flood parts of Mathare, carrying with it a number of shacks where people were asleep.
One woman was reported as having been killed by the water, while by Monday the unofficial number of displaced people had been tallied at 600. This comes after a recent Kenya Red Cross warning that since March of this year, 50 people have died and tens of thousands have been displaced across the country as a result of flooding.
First on the scene in these cases is generally the Kenyan Red Cross (KRC), which attempts to provide blankets and shelter to victims of disasters. In Mathare, the KRC arrived around twelve hours after the flood and stayed for a few hours collecting information. By Wednesday, the KRC had still not returned and the displaced people had been given shelter in a temporary camp by the Mathare police station.
'Climate resiliance' and impact on women
Earlier this year, the think tank PopTech organized a "Climate Resilience Lab" in Nairobi, which aimed to tackle the issue of climate resilience in low-income communities. Unfortunately, though, the lab appeared to focus almost exclusively on rural areas, failing to delve into the issue of how climate change and overpopulation can affect low-income urban settlements.
One of the conclusions of the Climate Resilience Lab was that in cases of disasters in low-income communities, it is generally women that are most affected. These findings reflect the current situation in Mathare, in which, of the approximately 600 people displaced by the floods, over two-thirds were women.
Needed: effective coping measures
What coping measures do slum dwellers have to protect themselves from the onslaught of the rain during the wet season?
The sad answer to this is that most people have little choice but to pick themselves up and head back to the very same spot that was affected by the disaster. Little by little they will rebuild the dwelling and resume living there, perfectly aware that if the disaster stuck again, the possibility of them being directly affected is more than high.
Potential benefits of community mapping
Mapped information is key in a disaster scenario, because if members of an area that is struck have been identified and counted, it will be much easier to provide assistance to them — whereas if there is no way of identifying whether someone actually lives in the affected place, it becomes harder to ensure that emergency funds go to the right beneficiaries.
Although Muungano Trust has gone a long way towards creating community maps, the riverbank that was flooded on Sunday night was not included in the trust's catchment area, thus leaving a gaping question mark as to how to make an emergency aid intervention in any way effective.
Two days after the floods, Mathare residents were busy sweeping almost two feet of silt from their shacks and trying to salvage what they could. They had received no assistance and didn't really expect to get any.
Only through community organization and a comprehensive government plan to upgrade the area around the Nairobi River and prevent people from building shacks on the waterfront — in other words, by providing sustainable alternatives to residents of Mathare and other informal settlements in Nairobi — will it be possible to prevent the recurrence of similar disasters.