International Day for Disaster Reduction 2015


The Theme for the International Day for Disaster Reduction in 2015 is: Knowledge for Life. In these terms UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stresses: “Traditional and indigenous knowledge is the indispensable information base for many societies seeking to live in harmony with nature and adapt to disruptive weather events, a warming globe and rising seas.” For more information about the International Day for Disaster Reduction please visit the United Nations website.

The Water Youth Network would like to use this opportunity for sharing a case of young people and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in Kenya. This article was first published by the County Times Newspaper, Nanyuki-Kenya.


By J W Wachira

Come on, let us give the weather men and women some credit, because they have done a good job! In the run-up to El Nino, there has been a wide range of reactions to the advice of our meteorological services. These reactions have mirrored changes in Kenyan Society and if there is any failure to prepare for what may come, it will certainly not be the fault of our weather forecasters. Kenya Meteorological services have predicted the high likelihood of significantly above normal rains for the coming short and long seasons as a result of El Nino. They have also been effective in spreading the word to enable early warning and preparedness. We hear discussion about El Nino at work, in social joints and around hearths at our rural homes.

In the last two weeks, I have been party to a number of interesting discussions on this topic. On a workplace balcony as staff take tea, discussion moves from a social catch-up to El Nino. One colleague asks another on what preparedness measures she has put in place in anticipation of the heavier than normal short-rains. She says that she is pretty much prepared. She has always been keen to make sure her drainage system is clean and clear. She inspects and cleans the rain water harvesting gutters. She repairs ditches around the house and removes places where water may collect and damage her home. The discussion begins to engage others. They too share preparedness measures they undertake to avoid damage from the El Nino rains around their homes and farms. They are prepared weather the rains come or not. The discussion ended with a feeling that we should all prepare individually and organizationally for the El Niño rain, whether or not they come.

This discussion was different one week later with a in a group of residents in rural Nyeri County. One woman in particular exemplified how the weather forecasters’ advice can fall on deaf ears. Driving up to this woman’s farm, on the leeward side of Mt.Kenya, bordering the semi-arid Laikipia plains the El Nino discussion comes up – again! A local water supply technician supporting a team of experts has come to examine issues with local water supply and asks her colleague about the plans she had to manage her farm and produce in light of the expected El Nino heavy rains. The woman eloquently argued that she is not worried by news of the El Nino. For her, “God is in charge.” She add that the men, i.e. the Met Office, may predict the rains but God decides our fate. For her it will be business as usual. The technician and his colleagues encouraged her to consider aligning the crops to plant and farming practises to the anticipated higher rainfall. However the lady was firm and fatalistic.

So, what can we learn from these (and other) discussions and scenarios about our preparedness? It is a serious and urgent discussion. El Nino is the increase of water temperatures in a corner of the pacific ocean of South America. This increase in water temperature is linked to a sequence of events that can results in heavy rainfall in East Africa. It has been the cause of some of the highest levels recorded in recent times. The last time a level this high was recorded, was in 1997.

We have seen how the varied communication channels that integrated mainstream and social media employed by the Kenya Meteorological and other Departments have effectively disseminated an awareness of El Nino driven above normal rains and its impacts.  The efficacy of these messages could be measured by the level of concern of most Kenyans, and by most I mean young Kenyans, despite the fact that they do not remember (or were even born after) the catastrophe of the last major El Nino 17 years ago!

It is also interesting to map how the changing means of communication are matching the changing reactions to the information. The traditional narrow focus on saving lives is a dangerous reaction to this kind of information, yet it exists and is common. Many Kenyan instantly think msaada is the first line of defence against a disastrous El Nino event. They don’t recognise how their own livelihoods and actions can be their true source of defence. Just reflect on the Serikali saindia lady (pictured). However the tide is turning against this old school, reaction to knowledge of an impending destructive seasonal downpour. Times are changing in Kenya, and many Kenyans want information to better manage their homes and businesses from impacts of heavy rainfall – or even too little rainfall! These actions are not limited to individuals. A few weeks ago the County government of Nairobi launched an ambitious plan to recruit large numbers of casual workers to unblock drainage channels in anticipation of the rains. This changing attitude together with a changing reaction makes us all safer. We could even think of this as Kenyan resilience building. Of course some events can overstretch local capacities by far, an instance that should prompt humanitarian assistance.

For a long time now, there has been a tendency to compartmentalize disaster preparedness by separating disasters and development. That is changing as we recognise preparing for bad times is as much part of life as preparing for the good times. Information like El Nino predictions of above normal rains during the short rains, are increasingly useful as we learn to attach practical action we can take to prepare.

Don’t blame the rain! My colleague who cleans her gutters and drains in and out of season, makes disaster preparedness part of her own day to day development plans. Is it any different for businesses, farmers, or our local or national government? The ultimate advantage of taking early action, as my colleague does, is that there are no regrets whether or not big rains come. It is just good business for her and all of us.


Perpetually affected by the R. Nyando flooding regimes, this woman has become the face of flood related anguish in Kenya.

The writer of this article is a development practitioner with interest in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. He can be reached via