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1.1     Physical location


Kenya is located on the Equator and is bisected by the Western side of the Great Rift Valley. The country lies between latitudes 5o North and 5o south and between longitudes 34o and 42o east. The land area of Kenya is about 569,137 km2, with a great diversity of landforms ranging from glaciated mountain peaks with permanent snow cover, through a flight of plateaus to the coastal plain. The country is split by the Great Rift Valley into the Western part, which slopes down into Lake Victoria from the Mau ranges and Mount Elgon (4,300m) and the eastern part dominated by Mt. Kenya and the Aberdare ranges which rise to altitudes of 5,200m and 4,000m respectively.


1.2     Socio-Economic Setting

Kenya has continued to experience socio-economic pressures such as inequitable patterns of land ownership, a high population growth rate, rural-urban migration of the population, poorly planned urbanization, deforestation, a low level of literacy, low growth of domestic product and high levels of unemployment. Economic performance has deteriorated over recent years with the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate falling from 4.8% in 1995 to 1.8% in 1998.


The Government has adopted long, medium and short-term policies to reverse these trends. The long-term policy framework is contained in the Sessional Paper No.2 of 1996 on Industrial Transformation by the year 2020 and the National Poverty Eradication Plan 1999-2015. The former presents policies that will lay the foundation for transforming Kenya into a Newly Industrialized Country (NIC) by the year 2020. The latter provides a national policy and institutional framework for action against poverty.


The medium-term policy framework is contained in the eighth National Development Plan 1997-2001. It focuses on raising economic growth and investment levels, promoting export-oriented industries and restructuring the role of government to focus on providing an enabling environment for economic growth. Kenya’s short-term policy framework is outlined in Policy Framework Papers (PFP) and annual budget statements.


1.3     Population Growth


The population of Kenya is projected to increase to 33.3 million by 2003 and 34.6 million by 2005. The projections assume a moderate decline in fertility and death rates, and also take into account the AIDS epidemic (Okeyo, et al., 1999). Despite a remarkable decrease over the past decade, Kenya’s annual population growth rate is still one of the highest in the world at 2.6 %. This has three major implications.  Firstly, over 50% of the population is less than 15 years of age, which means that the economy has to support a large and growing number of young people.  Secondly, population growth rates in densely populated regions have led to rural-urban migration.  This has over-stretched resources in the urban areas.  Decreasing standards of land management, infrastructure, water and sanitation and municipal services have led to a steady decline on health and environmental standards as well as an increased vulnerability to human-made and natural disasters.  Thirdly, there has also been a noticeable rural-rural migration to the ASAL areas, affecting the ecosystem of these regions and rendering them more vulnerable to disasters such as drought and environmental degradation.


1.4     Poverty


The impact of disasters on the population is greatly influenced by the incidence of poverty.  The ability to cope with disasters or the level of a community’s disaster management capacity can be greatly limited by the incidence of poverty in the community.


According to the 1994 Welfare Monitoring Survey (WMS II) results, 48% of the rural population is food poor (NPEP, 1999-2015).  Equally, in the same report, 47% of the rural population and 29% of the urban population were identified as absolute poor.  A large number of the poor are living on either subsistence agriculture or employment in the urban informal sector.  The condition of poverty is illustrated by factors such as large families, lack of productive skills, low levels of education, ill health, high incidence of AIDS and other disabilities and changes in social structures leading to the breakdown of facilities and support systems.  These factors radically increase the vulnerability of the poor to natural hazards and human-made disasters.  The recent El Niño (1997-1998) and the heavy rains of 1999 show that those most affected by these natural occurrences are the poorer sectors of the population living in slums and squatting along flood and landslide areas.  Poverty also seriously affects their resilience to disasters given the constant challenge for survival, which many face.


One-third of the rural households are female headed, with as many as 60% of these having no male support.  Female-headed households are especially vulnerable due to external factors such as the discriminatory access to the tenure of land in rural areas, housing in urbanized areas and their inability to access the job market on favorable conditions.


1.5     Urbanization


The rate of urbanization in Kenya is one of the highest in the world.  While the estimated annual rate of growth of the urban population in Kenya is at 7.05% for the period of 1995-2000, the average for African cities is 4.37% and 2.57% for the world.  This has over-stretched the capacity of infrastructure and services in the large towns, to the extent that large sectors of the population have to squat or live in slums, exposing themselves to numerous hazards such as floods, fires and epidemics.  More than half of the urban residents live in poverty.  They dwell in peripheral urban areas, have limited incomes, education, and poor diets and live in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions.  Safe drinking water, the disposal of solid waste, decent housing and transportation are particularly lacking.  Urban residents are exposed to increased levels of contamination from factories where environmental protection is minimal.  Poor construction and the unplanned nature of these informal settlements expose dwellers to the effects of landslides and flooding.


1.6     Natural Resources and the Environment


Kenya is characterized by its limited natural resources especially for water, minerals and agricultural land.  This condition, associated to the fragility of its ecosystems and vulnerability to increased pressure by human activities, raises critical environmental issues related to bio-diversity, deforestation, desertification, drought, floods and pollution.  Forest resources and soil cover are being depleted due to the rapid increase in population and the demand for human settlements and agricultural land, grazing, sourcing of construction materials, food, fuel-wood, essential oils and herbal medicines.


1.7        About this study


The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) in cooperation with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder Colorado, USA, was awarded a grant by the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP) to carry out a 19-month study on the impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño event on sixteen countries in four major areas. These areas included Asia, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America. These countries are Peru, Fiji, Costa Rica, Cuba, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Paraguay, Panama Canal, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Ecuador, and Kenya.


The study runs from May 15,1999 to December 15, 2000. This study is a partnership among United Nations agencies. In addition to UNEP and NCAR's Environmental and Societal Impacts Group there are the World Meteorological Organization's World Climate Program (WMO), The International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR – now the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction: ISDR), and the United Nations University's Environment and Sustainable Development Programme.


This assessment will review forecasts and impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño, as well as the climate-related early warning and natural disaster preparedness systems in the selected countries in order to improve their ENSO coping mechanisms. Based on this assessment, the project will identify research and policy needs and develop preliminary guidelines for regional and national natural disaster preparedness plans for ENSO warm and cold events and their impacts.



The review and assessment will form the basis for:


·         Identifying policy needs which can then be developed or incorporated into appropriate operational disaster management and research programs. This would include, but would not be limited to, those relating to the potential yet-to-be-identified linkages between ENSO and climate change.

·         Developing a preliminary set of guidelines for national and regional preparedness for ENSO.

·         Designing a capacity-building program for fellowship and training of mid-level resource and sector managers, post-graduate education, and outreach to the international academic and scientific community.


Through an improved understanding of early warning, the project ultimately contributes to the safety and welfare of people and the environment by enhancing preparedness for the impacts of future ENSO events.


This review and assessment study in Kenya, was carried out between the months of September 1999 and February 2000. Data and reports from Government Ministries and especially from the National Disaster Co-ordination Center, related to the 1997-98 El Niño were available to the working Group. A national workshop was held on February 4th, 2000 where members of the technical working group presented their findings. Representatives from the various Government Ministries and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) were invited to this workshop. Their contributions and suggestions have, as much as possible, been taken into consideration in this final report.