Kenya: Thousands Stare at Evacuation As Lake Victoria Islands Submerged

Researchers collecting samples of water from the shores of Lake Victoria in Kisumu, Kenya (file photo).

The government may have to evacuate families living on Remba and other islands in Lake Victoria as the water reaches alarming levels, local leaders have said.

Already several families have been evacuated from Migingo Island in Migori County and are camping in schools on the mainland.

There is currently a backflow of water in the lake due to several factors, including heavy inflow as a result of heavy rains.

Thousands of lives, and economic activities, are now threatened as a number of islands are on the verge of being submerged.

At Remba Island, which has a population of about 70,000, more than 143 families have been displaced.

The families have been directed to set up temporary structures in a formerly graveyard site.

The island is a major business centre, and many traders are contemplating relocating to safer grounds.

Suba North MP Millie Odhiambo says the families will have to be relocated to safer grounds if the water levels rise further.


On Tuesday, Ms Odhiambo and Kenya Red Cross officials, took tents, utensils, mats and blankets to the affected families to help them set up temporary shelters as they wait for the water to subside.

"Several families have already been displaced and their property destroyed. Many people have lost their homes; that is why we are giving them tents," the legislator said.

By the end of last week, 34 families had been displaced in Takawiri Island and 77 in Ringiti Island, according to Kenya Red Cross statistics.

Ms Odhiambo said crowding in camp sites was making social distancing, meant to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, difficult.

She joined other leaders in mounting pressure on the county disaster department to offer assistance to the families.

"I will do the same on the national level, where I believe I will get help for our people," said the MP.

Some victims have sought shelter in lodges on the islands while others have moved to Remba Primary School.

The rising water level has also impacted fish production on the lake. Remba Island, was previously a beehive of activities involving fishermen. Now, fishing has been hampered as landing sites are submerged and boats destroyed.

County Beach Management Units chairman Edward Oremo said many fishermen have abandoned the trade because of a fall in the catch.


Elsewhere, in Kakamega County, residents of Mutua village in Lugari are experiencing sleepless nights after underground spring water permeated their houses.

Mrs Grace Mulanda Shitanda, a victim, said her home's floor has been flooded with underground water since Saturday.

"We have been forced to break the earth and walls to provide drainage for the water. Toilets are overflowing and mixing with water from shallow wells. This is posing the danger of water borne diseases," she said.

When the Nation visited the village, residents were digging tunnels to facilitate the flow of water from their houses and compounds.

Felix Kwatenge, a Form Four student at Lwandeti Friends School, was forced to dig several trenches in his cottage after water erupted from the ground at night.

His father, Mr John Juma Kwatenge, said they are afraid the houses may collapse.

"We spend the nights awake for fear of our houses collapsing because the meteorological department has announced that more rains are still coming," said Mr Juma.

Locals are also counting losses after the heavy rains swept away maize crops in their farms.

Meanwhile, Kenya National Highway Authority (Kenha) engineers have embarked on repairs at the Shibale Nzoia River bridge that cracked on Monday, paralysing transport along the Mumias-Busia and Mumias-Bungoma roads.


Kenha Western Regional Director Isaiah Onsongo said his team was reinforcing the embankment against the effects of the water with heavy stones before they start on protection works after the rains subside.

The authority will also introduce relief culverts on the two ends of Shibale bridge as a long-term solution.

"The extensive works - which will include gabion works and stone pitching - will be conducted after the floods subside, before putting actual concrete on the top," said Mr Onsongo.

Motorists travelling to Mumias, Busia and Bungoma counties have been forced to use the longer and rough Matawa-Ogalo-Ejinja road, then onto Busia or Bungoma.

Kenha has also closed the bridge in Malakisi, Bungoma County, after its support weakened.

In Laikipia County, residents living around various dams have been urged to move to higher grounds as more dams breach their walls and start overflowing.

Gatirima dam in Laikipia West broke its walls on Wednesday, posing a risk to people living downstream.

The dam started overflowing after Kanyuka and Gituamba dams spilled.

Officials from the Water Services Regulatory Board and Water Resource Management Authority have urged those living downstream to move to higher grounds.

"The dam is already full to capacity and there is a spill. People living around should move to higher grounds to avert any disasters," said Wasreb chairman Joshua Irungu when he led his team on a fact finding mission at the dam.


Residents have called on the government for aid. "We are at risk of being displaced; our homes have been submerged by water. We are calling on the government to come to our rescue as we don't know what to do," said Mr Isaac Wahome, a resident.

Mr Samwel Kangogo, another resident, said that roads in the area have been rendered impassable.

Gatirima is the second major dam to breach its walls after Rubere dam last week. The overflow from Rubere dam, which sits on a 10-acre piece of land, destroyed over 400 acres of tomatoes and maize in the area.

Additional reporting by Ian Byron and Steve Njuguna.

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