East Africa and problems of droughts and floods

North Africa Region, Agriculture, 9/6/1997


Water is a precious commodity in east Africa, where the threat of drought is never far away. But cyclical droughts and floods continue to plague farmers.

It is an age-old problem that has been linked to many hardships--and conflicts--in the region. Can anything be done?

In Kenya, three rainy seasons in a row failed. There was not enough water to grow crops or feed livestock. In towns and cities this year the price of maize meal, a staple food, doubled, and milk was so scarce that some mothers fought in shops to get enough for their children.

Kenya's worst-hit areas were eastern, northeastern and coastal provinces.

"What I planted was maize, beans and potatoes and pears and none came out, not at all," said one woman after surveying her wilted fields at Katalembu village in east province.

"It's like one or two years without anything coming out from the farms," she said, they "had a lot of problems getting a little to eat."

When the rains did come to Kenya, they came with a vengeance, thunderous through the nights, as water rushed through rural and urban areas.

At first it was a welcome sound to Kenyans, but all too soon there were stories of terrible floods.

Slum houses in Nairobi were washed away. And dozens of people died when torrential rains swelled rivers. Many more lost what little property they had: mattresses, some furniture, cooking pots. Up-country, a family was killed in a lightening storm, and more were displaced by flooding.

Droughts and floods are unusual in Kenya, nor in the rest of east Africa world has hears of the recent crises in Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and other areas.