Thursday, 01 October 2015 00:00

Embracing the Waters of El Niño

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Effects of El Nino Effects of El Nino By Dave Gatley, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One raindrop follows another then another and suddenly the sky seems to be wailing heavily, it is indeed raining cats and dogs. The gods must be infuriated and they are sending a message. The weather is chilly outside and everyone is cuddled up with a blanket. The year is 1997.

The dust that once dominated the earth has been turned into thick sticky brown mud. The earth has given in and forms little streams of water eroding whatever is on its path. Half an hour later the stream has matured into a river and it flows down furiously. Those that are outside are scared and confused trying to run for cover everywhere and anywhere. The heavens are stark raving mad according to my five year old brain but science has a different perspective and scientists’ call it the  El Niño.

We have changed all the natural pathways and blocked the water from flowing freely. This must be its cruel way of punishing us at least that’s what the old people believe.  But science believes in facts and tested theories that say the water in the Pacific Ocean are a bit too warm, therefore affecting normal climate in some parts of the world.

Mother Nature has also released some flies that pee and leave you with a horrible dark mark almost like a dry burn, they have been named Nairobi fly. My brother and I however have another name for it after my sister fell victim to their acidic urine we call them nzi wa sumu- poisonous fly.

My mother would light up a fire in the chimney and every time there would be a thermos filled with tea and another one with porridge for us little ones. I also dredge up the adults always feeling sad each time they watched the news. It was obviously difficult for my siblings and I to understand then because we were so excited being indoors and most times missing school.

It is only years later we got to learn about the El Niño rains and understood the damage they had caused during that year. Mother’s prayer had changed and she was mourning for this Nation.

That was a decade and a half ago. There have been predictions that El Niño will pay us a visit again sometime this year and it’s a scary yet exciting feeling for me. I will be able to witness this once in a lifetime experience, with full knowledge of what is happening. The excitement is because when it last happened I had no idea of what was really going on. It will be different this time round, now that I do know and have read and heard so much about it. The scare is definitely caused by the damage it can bring about especially if we are not well prepared.

The weather man has come out with strong forecast that this year Mother Nature is going to be more upset than in the previous years or in their exact terms El Niño is coming back with a big bang. The metrological department has issued statements to residents of Nairobi and told everyone to take precaution. The government seems to have taken this matter very seriously and has decided to set aside five billion Kenyan shillings incase of a disaster.

This was after some areas of Nairobi experienced heavy rains earlier this year and there was massive destruction of property and lives were lost. Many families lost their homes and property worth millions of shillings. The roads paved way for the large amounts of water and they were deemed impassable. This served as a wake up call to the local authorities to repair the drainage systems to avoid future incidents.

As the government is preparing for the disaster at a national level we should also prepare for it at a personal level. As an individual what steps are you taking to ensure you will be safe? More so as a property owner in Nairobi have you set up drainage facilities to harvest the water or will it be another case of floods and empty words?

 “The management should open up sewers and ensure drainage systems are cleared. The last time it rained heavily in Nyayo, residents had to walk in flooded contaminated water and some roads were impassable.” said Violet Kavukilwa a resident of Nyayo estate Embakasi. This is just one plight of the many being echoed.

This estate has almost two thousand houses and yet the drainage systems are very poor and heavy rains cause floods on the roads.  They have also put up parallel vent pipes that drain the water to the ground surface instead of trying to harvest it.  This area is a good example because residents are always complaining of water issues yet the management hasn’t considered harvesting rain water.

Another resident had this to say when I asked them how prepared they were for the rains and whether they would try to harvest the water, “No we are not prepared because we live in flats. We are not allowed to install extra tanks on the roof. The management needs to harvest the water as they have good roofs and capacity to do so but as an individual I will just sit and wait as we are not allowed to even store water downstairs or in the hallway.”

This is just an example drawn from a pond with many fish but it shows our attitude and how we always take things lightly yet to be forewarned is to be forearmed. There is a lot of potential in harvesting rain water because it’s usually clean. It can be used to wash the house, do laundry and for showering in urban areas. In the rural areas it can be used for irrigation on the farms and even purified to make it suitable for animal and human consumption.

Rain water is naturally soft as it doesn’t contain dissolved minerals or salts and is free of chemical treatment. Harvesting rain water ensures that the normal water supply is supplemented during the lean season. It also reduces soil erosion which can be rampant during the heavy rains. In addition, it will reduce flooding on the roads as all the water will be directed to a specific storage facility. The methods for harvesting rain water are affordable and the benefits are many.

Many countries have taken advantage and storing rain water thus reducing their consumption of potable water. It is appropriate for large scale landscapes such as schools, commercial sites, parking lots, and apartment complexes, as well as small scale residential landscapes. Knowledge is power, so as El Niño approaches; let us strive to make a positive change by helping nature help us, through rain water harvesting.

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