El Niño rains could be double-edged sword for Kenya

Torrential rains
Copyright: Arjan van de Merwe/UNDP

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  • The El Niño-related rainfall is expected to peak this month
  • Experts say it could boost agricultural production and power generation
  • But it could also increase the spread of diseases such as malaria

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[NAIROBI] Kenya should take advantage of the predicted El Niño-related rainfall expected to peak this month and extend to early parts of 2016, according to meteorologists.
Kenyan meteorologists say that although the rains will negatively impact on people and their livelihoods, the country should be prepared to reap the benefits of the rains.
“We have positives that Kenyans, especially those in the agricultural marginalised areas, should take advantage of,” said Samuel Mwangi, a meteorologist from the Kenya Meteorological Department.

“If [people in] such areas do serious farming during this season, they will increase the country’s agricultural productivity.”

Samuel Mwangi, Kenya Meteorological Department


Mwangi tells SciDev.Net that farmers in such areas as Mbeere, Makueni and Machakos which usually experience dry seasons, should tap into the rains and plant food crops.
“If [people in] such areas do serious farming during this season, they will increase agricultural productivity on their farms, hence improving the food security situation in the country,” explained Mwangi adding that the national and county governments should help farmers in these areas by providing farm inputs such as seeds.
The enhanced rainfall in the arid and semi-arid areas especially in north-eastern Kenya will be good news to the residents as more water and pasture will be available for their livestock.
According to Kenya Meteorological Department, El Niño is common in the Pacific Ocean but its effect on rainfall patterns in countries such as Kenya also results from the Indian and Atlantic oceans.
Kenya could also take advantage of the rains to generate hydroelectric power from dams, according to Mwangi. This, he says, could help the country generate more power, and thus reduce energy costs in the country.
But meteorologists warn that the country may experience harsh effects of the rains such as landslides and flooding in some parts of the country. This could lead to loss of lives and disrupt the transport sector in such areas as Nairobi and parts of western Kenya
Key sectors of the economy such as agriculture, energy, transport, health and the environment will be the most hit by the rains. “The rains will coincide with the harvesting period in the NorthRift region of Kenya,” noted Mwangi as he advised farmers to harvest as early as possible before the onset of the rains.
Also, meteorologists warn that floods could lead to an increase of vectors and water-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and Rift Valley fever.

Japheth Mutinda, a small-scale farmer from Machakos County, says that he looks forward to the rains as he will plant crops on his farm and harvest rain water for future use.
His colleague from Trans-Nzoia County, Jackyline Imbandu, says that the rains could affect the proper drying of cereals such as maize, which is a staple crop in the area and in most parts of Kenya.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.