Nairobi's poor drainage system
Image: Kiss

After seven years, Kenya is staring at experiencing another El Niño event.

This is after the World Meteorological Organisation on Wednesday, July 5, declared the onset of El Niño conditions.

El Niño occurs on average every two to seven years, and episodes typically last nine to 12 months.

The phenomenon usually brings heavy rains to Kenya, as opposed to La Nina, which brings dry weather.

The Kenya Metrological Department says its effects usually heavy rains in Kenya are typically seen from October.

According to National Geographic, the name El Niño originated on the Coast of Peru when South American fishermen first noticed periods of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean in the 1600s.

El Niño conditions are expected to persist up to the October-December 2023 rainfall season and may extend to the November to January season.

Kenya has in the past witnessed several El Nino events.

Dr David Gikungu, the head of Kenya Meteorological Department says that for instance, the 1987 October-December season was an El Niño event that did not result in heavy rainfall over the country.

The 1997 rainfall, had a devastating impact on agriculture, water resources, transport and communications and health sectors due to its uniqueness, intensity and destructive power.

The rains, which started as normal rains in October 1997 in most parts of the country, picked up to floods in November and continued in intensity into January the following year before subsiding slowly and ending in mid-February.

Widespread flooding led to the destruction of property in several sections of the country, mud/landslides and the destruction of dams and the siltation of rivers.

Increased rainfall resulted in increased plant and animal diseases, and a reduction in yields while several cases of deaths of animals through drowning were also reported.

Several bridges and an estimated 100,000 km of both rural and urban roads were destroyed leading to a general paralysis of the transport system in most parts of the country.

Several health facilities were physically destroyed while an upsurge of disease epidemics and an increase in morbidity and mortality rates were witnessed.

Even though the MET department had issued an advisory early enough, it was received with scepticism due to alleged earlier “wrong” forecasts from KMD.

This is contained in a research paper by a group of experts from the University of Nairobi.

Additionally, in 2015, the El Niño index was higher than that of 1997 but the country did not experience as much rainfall as it did in 1997.

The US National Weather Service Climate Prediction Centre however says because sudden weather changes can be unpredictable, it is still possible an El Niño fails to materialise, but there is only a five to 10 per cent chance of that.

This means that extreme heavy rainfalls in a short span will bring in additional shocks like flash floods and water-borne diseases.

These disasters will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis faced by the communities.

Most drought-hit areas, including northern Kenya where it is not even known whether it will rain soon, are resting hopes on the El Nino.