How to use technology to respond effectively to drought and flood emergencies
3 months ago, 11 June 09:56
This past week, I participated as a panellist at the Kenya Institute for Policy Research and Analysis’ (KIPPRA) annual conference on Building Resilience to Mitigate the Impact of Droughts and Floods.
The gathering follows increasing concern over frequent incidences of extreme weather conditions in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
KIPPRA data shows a declining cycle for droughts in Kenya. Until 1983/84, when the region experienced the most devastating drought – with Ethiopia being hit the hardest - the problem was not frequent.
There was a lull of six years in the period leading up to another drought in 1991/92 after which the frequency of droughts increased, with more droughts being experienced in 1995/96, 1999/2000, 2004, 2005/2006, 2009, 2011 and the latest 2016/17.
In between the droughts, the region saw devastating floods as recorded in 1982, 1985, 1997/98, 2002, 2006 and 2017.
Almost every year, sub-Saharan Africa experiences either severe drought or floods. Planning should be the core pillar towards achieving zero casualties from these disasters.
With high unemployment, there should be no reason drainage systems in cities should be clogged to the extent that people drown in flooded streets. Yet these cities are collecting taxes from residents.
The advent of big data analytics has necessitated the metrological departments across the region to provide precise predictions of impeding disasters.
That knowledge has, however, not been translated to effective preparedness.
Even with announcements that severe weather is expected, ordinary folks seem to be caught unaware by many of the disasters that have hit the region. This is largely due to lack of public education.
Planning, in my view, must be long range. From various data sources, the region will experience drought in the next two years and as such planning for drought should have started by now through gathering hay and converting it into silage and burying it in drought-prone areas within the arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL).
Unfortunately, this will not happen but when disaster strikes, entire systems switch to reactive mode.
In Kenya, the government spent in excess of $300 million in trying to respond to the drought disaster of 2016/17.
THE FUTURE THROUGH DATA
As they say in medicine, prevention is better than cure. Much is needed to stay away from reactive responses to disasters to anticipating disasters and providing cheaper but sustainable solutions.
It is possible, for example, to develop water pans and harvesting hay throughout the ASAL regions during the rainy season and using them to mitigate drought.
There will be a need to train livestock farmers from these regions to adopt feeding methods that are more productive than the current random search for pasture that not only wears down the livestock but is of no significant monetary value.
The value from livestock farming comes from the weight the animals gain and this will never come from cattle that are permanently running a marathon.
The cost of converting pastoralists from the current cultural practices of animal husbandry to commercial production is by far cheaper than leaving the pastoralists to encroach on private property ...
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