Humanitarian Aid vs. Sustainable Development in the Face of Kenya’s Floods

Wednesday, May 15th, 2024

One of The Water Project’s protected springs flooded by rainwater.

The flooding in Kenya presents a significant humanitarian crisis. The Water Project’s work areas have not seen as many adverse effects as the country’s capital, Nairobi. However, the entire country is feeling for their countrymen in the aftermath of several weeks’ torrential rains.

Many people have been displaced from their homes. They are unable to provide for themselves, or even look after their families. Over 200 people are dead, some are missing, and it is evident that the country is unable to provide for and protect its own citizens because it lacks the resources to do so.

Hygiene and sanitation are currently questionable in the country’s cities because the floodwater has mixed with sewage and feces. A lack of proper sanitation facilities is affecting those in camps and flooded areas, and public health officers are foreseeing an outbreak of cholera and respiratory infections among the children and those staying in the camps because of the cold and overcrowding at the camps.

The water quality in most parts of the country is also now questionable because the water reserve tanks that channel water from rivers to municipal taps are already flooded and blocked with dirty water. There is not enough clean and safe water in the homes and the camps, meaning many people’s health is at risk.

Transportation in the country has been paralyzed, homes carried away by floods, buildings are sinking, and landslides are affecting some parts of the country. At the same time, the healthcare workers were on strike until last week, meaning even those with injuries from the floods could not receive quality medication from the government hospitals.

In a situation as complex as this one, lots of people need help immediately. The Water Project can still help — but not in the same way a humanitarian aid organization would.

In Western Kenya, we are ensuring communities and institutions are accessing clean and safe water despite the ongoing rains in the country. A few of our water sources in Western Kenya have been affected, especially the protected springs. Our protected springs are located down in valleys, and all the run-off is being washed into the water, affecting its quality and even damaging the water points. 

Our Operations and Maintenance Team is working together with communities and institutions to ensure that all the water points are functional. Our Rapid Response team in Western Kenya is visiting all the water points whose water quality test results show that the water is contaminated. As usual, the Team will be following up with those communities whose water quality has been compromised to tell them to use their spring’s chlorine dispensers and boil water before drinking where necessary.

But while we’re doing all we can to help those in our service areas navigate any adverse effects from the floods, this crisis still calls for more immediate relief from other parties.

A humanitarian crisis is usually referred to when one or more events deprive the population or parts of the population of a country of basic subsistence conditions, such as access to water, food, shelter, medical care, and education, and threaten the long-term health and security of the population.

Triggered by events such as natural disasters, civil wars, or epidemics, humanitarian crises endanger the health, well-being, and safety of a large group of people. That is why humanitarian aid came in handy to provide assistance to evacuate those trapped in flooded areas, supply food, give clothing, provide medical aid, and ensure that those affected could stay in camps donated by The Red Cross.

Effective coordination and collaboration among humanitarian organizations, governments, local authorities, and other stakeholders is crucial for maximizing the impact of aid efforts. Coordinated responses can avoid duplication of efforts, fill gaps in assistance, and ensure resources are used efficiently.

Guided by principles such as neutrality, impartiality, humanity, and solidarity, humanitarian aid emphasizes the importance of cultural sensitivity, collaboration with local stakeholders, and promoting resilience in the face of adversity. And while Humanitarian aid involves emergency interventions, rapid response, and crisis management, it also provides guidelines for sustainable development.

Sustainable development means meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This means that during the current flood crisis in Kenya, humanitarian organizations will donate food, build shelters, and offer medications when needed to the affected population, but they will not be able to rebuild the homes carried away by floods or construct the roads that have been rendered impassable by the floods.

The services they are unable to provide leave space for the kind of sustainable development The Water Project strives toward — even in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.

The Water Project’s practices are more sustainable than crisis aid, which focuses on immediate rather than long-term solutions. 

A few of the ways we ensure our projects are sustainable:

  • Year-after-implementation visits, where our field officers visit communities and institutions to see whether the project is serving the community as expected. Here, our teams learn how a project is impacting its community so that its members no longer experience the same challenges. Each year-after visit, we hope to find people focusing on building their careers, educations, and families back at home rather than searching for water.
  • We train and sensitize the communities about the importance of soap-making, tree planting, and keeping a kitchen garden. This helps the communities and institutions to be able to earn income through making soap by selling. Selling vegetables from the kitchen garden in schools and communities helps students and mothers to earn income to support some of their needs.
  • The Water Project involves schools and communities in global events like World Water Day and Global Handwashing Day to remind them that water is key and hand hygiene keeps families healthy. The communities’ participation in events motivates them to work harder to support their families.

Despite the rains and floods, we will deliver on the promises we made to communities and institutions to get them safe, reliable water.

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