Flooding in the Mara: An Issue That Begs for Attention
For the third year in a row, the Maasai Mara has been experiencing repeated "100-year" storms and floods. Rivers are overflowing their banks, causing widespread infrastructure damage, threatening livelihoods (even sweeping away herds of cattle), flooding safari camps and businesses, cutting off people from their homes and villages, and shutting down schools. Amos makes an urgent appeal to the government for attention to this problem.
by Amos Kipeen
From the looks of things, floods are here to stay, and climate change is real and alive. Over the last three years, the Talek community has seen a new twist of recurring dramatic floods in Talek village and surrounding areas, with the destruction of properties, loss of lives, disruption of learning and businesses, and disease outbreaks. This has been a long-time menace in the Mara with very little if any efforts to address the issue.
Last year, Talek Bridge to the Maasai Mara National Reserve (shown above) was swept away by heavy floods and downpour. The bridge was rebuilt but was inundated again just this month. The following video from the Talek Water Resource Users Association (WRUA) shows the recent flooding at Talek Bridge. Unfortunately, this scene is typical of the flooding we have experienced multiple times in the past few years. Camps and businesses near the rivers have been repeatedly submerged. (Thank you to Daniel Maitai from WRUA for permission to share this video.)
Along the Mara River north of us, entire herds of cows were swept away in May 2021 because the river rose so fast and families were not alerted to move their herds to safety.
The problem is widespread throughout Kenya. According to the Red Cross, in 2020 about 40,000 people from over 6580 households were displaced by floods. Among the most hard-hit areas were Western Kenya, Nyanza, Coast, and Rift Valley regions, including the Maasai Mara. The floods are linked to mismanagement of natural resources, deforestation, sand harvesting, and unplanned settlement.
The big question is, what next? With heavy rainfall predicted, urgent action is needed. Alongside the Talek Water Resource Users Association (WRUA), we call upon the government to enforce flood mitigation measures:
Put on flood warning systems to alert residents to move to safety when floods are detected
Promote tree planting along the rivers, as this will slow down waters when the rivers overflow
Stop the over-exploitation of sand along the rivers, to maintain strong riverbanks that will help contain the water
Develop all-weather infrastructures; bridges, and roads, ensuring that all schools are safely accessible for students during rainfall seasons
The following video shows flooding at one of the safari camps in the Talek area. This has happened multiple times, each time damaging the camps and affecting the livelihood of many families in the area. (Thank you to Kiok Tim for this video.)
The following photo shows where women and children need to cross the Talek River every day to get to markets and to school. When flooded, they are not able to make this crossing. During one of the floods in 2020, a mama drowned while trying to cross here.
The Mara is a World Heritage Site, and any threats to its ecosystem and biodiversity are a threat to the world. We need proper mechanisms in place to create and enforce policies and regulations that will curb these climate-related problems.
About the Author
A native of the Maasai Mara, Amos Kipeen is a lifelong conservationist and an activist for education and community empowerment. Amos is a board member of OliveSeed and directs OliveSeed projects in Kenya. He is also the founder and CEO of Mara Discovery Community & Empowerment Centre and program manager for Basecamp Foundation Kenya in the Mara.