Woman counts her losses in Budalang’i
Topesta Auma is busy tilling her small piece of land where she has planted maize at her humble home in Mumbira village, Budalangi Location in Busia County.
Ambience of water, birds, cows mowing and the humid weather welcomes one to the shores of River Nzioa.
The brown calm water mass that is silted does not show from the looks, that it turns catastrophic for the Budalangi people when it rains heavy.
It is here that Topesta, a mother of seven has called home over the last 28 years, a home that is known for perennial floods caused by bursting of River Nzioa banks when it rains.
“I was first displaced by floods in 1988, since then I have been displaced three times and every time I am displaced I lose everything and have to build a new home,” she explains during the interview.
Asked if she is prepared for the rainy season recently announced by the Meteorological department, she responds: “I have no other place to move, this is my ancestral home. Iam not prepared in any way, Iam waiting for the flood and praying to God to protect us.”
According to Kenya Meteorological Department report released early this year, Budalang’i may experience floods.
Kenya Meteorological Department acting director Peter Ambenje confirmed that flash floods may be experienced in Western parts of Kenya.
However, Topesta says they have adopted local ways of preparing for floods. She says that a local community station, Bulala community Radio has been airing stories on disaster preparedness. “We have heard about the floods messages but we are helpless, when we see rains coming all we do is to wrap our belongings and keep them ready for the next move, it is not usually a good situation, people die, some get infected with water borne diseases and generally we get displaced.”
Asked about any indigenous knowledge they use to predict floods, Topesta reveals; “An increase in frogs and migratory birds are some of the indicators we use to predict floods coming our way. The wildlife has helped us prepare in our small own ways.
Topesta vividly recalls how the 2003 Elnino rains brought havoc in her village. “It was one of the worst floods I ever experienced, many people died because of drowning and diseases, we even had measles outbreak during that time, both children and adults were affected.”
Topesta says there are camps designated to host the displaced people during floods but that is her last option. “Life at the camps is usually very difficult, there are usually limited resources and congestion which makes life very difficult for the girl child and women. Many children drop out of school during such times and it becomes difficult for them to go back to school afterwards,” a worried Topesta confides.
Similarly, Sande Musiola, a father of five in his early forties shares same tribulations as Topesta. He recalls the last heavy floods he experienced with his family in 2008. “I lost everything including my livestock.”
Although Sande confirms the government responds during the stressful moments, he says the help is never enough. ” First they never consider the size of displaced families, everything is brought in same ration and leaves many in despair.”
According to Symon Ngetich, District Commissioner, Bunyala District, the rains that cause havoc in Budalang’i region come from River Nzoia after its banks burst.
“The government through support of other development partners have constructed dykes to help in blocking the water. These dykes are on the southern and northern parts of the river Nzioa.”
“We are working closely with the ministry of special programs, humanitarian organizations like Redcross Kenya and also Unicef.We recently received 62 emergency kits from Unicef to help in preparedness.” Ngetich confirms.
Ngetich says last year they experienced floods but this time round they were not rain related but over flow of Lake Victoria. “The floods caught people unawares, we just woke up to find a mass of water.”
Ngetich says that there is need for a clear demarcation of riparian land.” It seems people have encroached on the river land and therefore when the water expands, they are caught in a disaster. We have been talking to experts to help us on this matter to avoid more damage in the future.”
“People here earn from agriculture largely and therefore if they settled on the right land it can be a source of livelihood, ” Ngetich observes.