Kenya: How a flooded village uses simple tactics to weather the storm

For the past year, Grace Onyango and dozens of villagers in Chuowe Beach, Homa Bay County, have not had a permanent home.

Following heavy rains in parts of the country from the end of 2019 to the best of 2020, hundreds of homes, schools and farms were flooded, forcing residents to flee.

To this day, dozens of houses in a small village in North Karachuonyo are still submerged. But besides having driven many of their homes, the devastating flooding that also overwhelmed latrines and a shopping mall could have done worse by triggering a public health crisis.

Located just a few miles from Lake Victoria, Chuowe Beach is a fishing village that has faced challenges ranging from indiscriminate sand harvesting, hippo attacks to poor sanitation, but the locals have survived from one way or another.

“Houses and latrines have been submerged, causing fear,” said Willis Omulo, a resident and president of the community organization Aluora Makare, which advocates for environmental issues.

With the fate of flood victims at stake, community leaders, county government and aid organizations have proposed interventions to protect them from further disasters.

Flooded toilets

Professor Richard Muga, Homa Bay County chief health officer, said that while the measures were rushed to meet the urgent need, they were able to avoid the worst.

“The toilets against the lake flooded the toilets. The county has recruited community health workers to conduct regular health talks and distribute water treatment pills among other public interventions, ”Professor Muga said.

Grace, a mother of seven, said they boiled water for home use and that county community health workers played a crucial role in their regular health talks.

“There were so many families sharing the school grounds where we took refuge. Therefore, the county government urgently built additional latrines,” she said, adding that they were receiving also water treatment tablets from community workers.

She further added disinfectants and frequent hand washing measures introduced as part of Covid-19 prevention measures have helped families cope with infections linked to poor hygiene.

Emily Opiyo, a community health worker employed by the county government, said: “We have been trained on hygiene both through community groups and door to door and we are encouraging families. to use what they have, ”she said.

When they could not get water treatment tablets, they advised households to boil water instead.

“This time around, for example, there were no mosquito nets to distribute. Therefore, we advised residents to use their old mosquito nets and sew them up when torn,” Emily said.

Community health workers also train residents to build pit latrines using plastic drums or concrete culverts to prevent pits from leaking during flooding.

The biggest challenge with new pit latrine technologies is that few residents can afford them, she said.

The sand harvest and the floods made it difficult to maintain the electricity poles, the village was disconnected from the national grid. But the village is not in the dark since many inhabitants use solar lighting.

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