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Residents call for ecosystem protection, humanitarian assistance

Two widows; Magdalena Okoth (80) and Magdalena Mwage (78) are always worried and pray more about their lives whenever the clouds form to usher in rainy seasons.

Right in front of their matrimonial home, a deep gulley has been steadily cutting them off from their loved ones and other villagers. They are asking for immediate humanitarian assistance from well-wishers before they are swept away in the flood-prone area.

For years, their minds immediately drifted to the perennial ravaging floods affecting the sleepy village tucked in Jimo East-Nyakach, Kisumu County. When farmers in other neighboring villages fervently pray for rain to pour on their already tilled lands, the widows and fellow villagers highly hope that their future generations will live to tell the tale.

Katuk-Odeyo Gulley, an environmental phenomenon, in its trail of destruction has continuously destroyed large swathes of farmland measuring over 50 acres, displaced 20 family homesteads, and caused losses of human and livestock lives and properties.

“The body of my sister-in-law was among several other graves which were washed away by the floods never to be traced. More than 20 homesteads have relocated nearby lands, but still, we are not safe because the gulley is expanding,’’ said Erick Omolo who is a victim of displacement.

`For his family’s safety, Omollo who used to be a neighbor to the two widows relocated some hundred meters to a much ‘higher ground.’

Omollo narrates that Katuk-Odeyo gulley began as a small stream in 1970 and as young children, they used to play and swim in it. He adds that the deadly gulley began its speedy expansion in 1980 sweeping away a vital bridge which was used by Jimo and Agoro residents.

The T-junction road from St. Charles Lwanga Ndori Primary School and the nearby St John Anglican Church, snaking its way into the thorny bushes and trees have been twice distinctively cut-off by the gulley rendering it impassable.

Further, it has created a no-passage for school-going children to Maraba, Ndori Primary, and Cherwa and Ndori Secondary Schools as the ferocious floods flow into Lake Victoria during the rainy season.

The area residents recall with nostalgia that buses used to ply the road as a crucial link between them and the neighbouring Kapsorok Centre in Kericho County up to 2002.

Omollo reveals that, “We have two people who have been permanently crippled and multiple people have been injured as they normally try to pass through the gulley. Our livestock has not been spared either from these ordeals as they search for greener pasture and water.”

Sections of Store Pamba-Katui road were also cut off during the El Nino period, thus aggravating destructions leading to temporary and permanent displacements.

The Area Chief John Odhiambo pointed out that there are numerous dangers lurking due to the mercilessly raging floods. He confirmed that several family homesteads have been displaced, and livestock and properties of unknown value lost.

Odhiambo called upon the area residents to continue rallying together by engaging in tree planting and other measures that can reduce deforestation as the government is working tirelessly to find a lasting solution to their woes.

To holistically address the issues, Omollo requested the government through NEMA to immediately ban sand harvesting which is normally carried out in the gulley after the rainy seasons. The move, Omollo notes, will enable the planting of trees and prevent further expansion of the gulley.

Of great concern is the silting of the cut-off drains into the two rivers caused by the massive deforestation exercise and many years of unblocking. These speeds up the water as it furiously flows downstream causing more destruction.

“The government should hasten the desilting of two upper dams and cut off drainages into Awach and Asao rivers. Some areas also need building of bridges and gabions,” Omollo said.

He explained that this will also help the highly endangered homes of Messrs. Martin Sunda, Thomas Aol and James Oyoo from being washed away as they are currently hanging over the gully.

In light of the foregoing tribulations, Omolo said that as a community they are appealing to the government to help them secure an alternative land.

Waga Magdalena, 96 years old, a resident, shared similar fears with KNA during a recent visit to her home. In their persistent quest to reclaim their lost land through tree planting as a community, she confirms that they are overwhelmed and urgently need the government’s intervention.

Affirming this position, Collins Ochieng said that nowadays they are left with gaping grazing fields and the gulley is often used as one of the escape routes by the cattle rustlers terrorizing the area.

Nyanza Acting Regional Commissioner Pauline Dola recently led a high-profile delegation of government officers to assess the extent of the losses and damages caused following complaints from the area community. It was composed of the Dr Lumumba Nyaberi-led National Environment Committee and Kisumu County Chief Officer-in-charge of Environment Marylene Yanza.

During the visit, they called for joint multi-agency efforts as the government is working tirelessly to find a lasting solution to curb the catastrophe.

Yanza said that they will soon deploy engineers to study the gulley’s course, draw designs and come up with tangible recommendations to stop degradation. “The mitigation process will also involve de-siltation of ten water pans and cut-off drains built-in 1991 according to KARI plans in Kisumu and Kericho Counties,” Yanza said.

Other preventative measures, Yanza avers, will be to create awareness amongst the community by rolling out a Tree Planting Campaign and establishing tree nurseries at the water pans aimed at reforestation efforts.

Yanza stressed that they will apply a participatory approach with the local residents to adequately sensitize them and make them embrace the rehabilitation plans.

She reassured that the county government has resolved to address Climate Change through the establishment of environmental committees at the Ward, Sub-County, and County levels.

As COP 27 closed its windows in Egypt on Climate Change, Jimo East residents join numerous communities who have pegged their hopes on the developed Western countries, and national and county governments to increase their budgetary allocation for Climate Financing.

This, they believe, will go a long way in addressing environmental degradation that continues to wreak havoc in their daily lives.

By Rolex Omondi

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