Aging dams and missed warnings: A lethal mix of factors caused Africa’s deadliest flood disaster
A devastating flood that killed over 400 people and displaced thousands in East Africa in 2018 has been linked to a lethal combination of aging infrastructure, outdated warning systems, inadequate maintenance and prolonged drought.
The flood occurred following heavy rains in the populous Mt. Elgon region of Kenya, located between the country’s border with Uganda and the Indian Ocean. The rainfall caused an intense build-up of water in the region’s Mukutani River, which runs through the center of the mountain.
To deal with the rising water, local authorities opened the gates of an aging earthen dam that had been built in 1931. The sheer volume of water released from the dam caused a deluge down the mountain, with the Mukutani river valley suddenly becoming a raging river. The ruthless surge swept away homes, water tanks, livestock, and lives in its path.
Although warnings had been broadcast over local radio two days prior, people living in low-lying areas did not receive adequate warning of the impending flood. Furthermore, Dam maintenance had been neglected, suggesting that the overflow could have been prevented, or at least reduced, had proper maintenance been undertaken.
Ultimately, the lethal combination of aging infrastructure, outdated warning systems, inadequate maintenance, and prolonged drought created the perfect storm for this tragic disaster. Although flooding in the region is an inevitable occurrence, better preparation and more efficient warning systems could ensure that in future cases, the consequences of such disasters are not as severe.