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From late 2017, everyone was concerned about the drought ravaging the country. The issue ricocheted in the media, public forums, and political agendas. Farms yielded no crops, pastoralists and livestock farmers lost herds of livestock, rivers ran dry and people died of hunger and thirst.

It was concerning! In this period, the government’s disaster management plans and mitigation mechanisms were put to question. Not only were the raging impacts of the drought being felt in the arid and semi-arid regions of the country, but also in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. In many residential neighbourhoods, the taps ran dry, and water shortage hit parts of the city for months.

Fast-track to March-April 2017. Barely half a year since the drought; there is property damage, loss of human lives and livestock due to heavy rains that are causing floods in the country, again questioning the country’s capacity and capability to control and manage disasters. So then, where does planning come in? What is the role of planning in mitigating natural and human-induced disasters?

The definition of planning according to UN Habitat, is a decision-making process aimed at realizing economic, social, cultural and environmental goals through the development of spatial visions, strategies and plans and the application of a set of policy principles, tools, institutional and participatory mechanisms and regulatory procedures. Planning is therefore, a future-oriented problem-solving strategy within a defined area, and should be tailored to set goals based on the images of the desired future. Simply put, it is the process of anticipating the future, and making arrangements to receive this future before it arrives. This involves designing of policies and implementation of plans to guide the system towards the goals, or to change the existing system if it cannot achieve the goals.

From the definition, the role of development planning in mitigation and management of disasters is greatly underscored. According to the United Nation’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, risk reduction and mitigation should be incorporated into development planning, through measures that include;

·         rural development planning and management;

·         planning and management of ecosystems, focusing  on strategies for reducing livelihood risk and increasing resilience;

·         programs promoting food security and diversification of agriculture-based livelihoods;

·         urban planning and slum-upgrading programmes and management of disaster-prone human settlements; and,

·         health sector programmes, in order to link livelihood risk reduction with programs for Safety and Health at Workplace as a component for promoting decent work practices, consolidate livelihood resilience and reduce risk in case of disaster

Zero in to Kenya; a country that has so often than not, been playing catch up to perennial incidences that ought to have been avoided by proper and effective planning. More than 50 years since independence, the country is often caught flat-footed, unawares and unprepared for re-current incidences such as drought, heavy rains and consequent flooding, terror attacks, accidents and fires, collapsing of buildings, and even the ever-growing informality and its externalities.

All these have exposed with distinction, the ineffective implementation of development plans and loopholes in development control mechanisms, as well as poor and ineffective infrastructure planning and service provision by our planning systems. This is seen to take place despite the country putting in place multi-sectoral systems, tools and mechanisms to ensure proper disaster preparedness and prompt timely response. Examples of such include the Vision 2030 policy document and its constituent infrastructure flagship projects, adoption of Sustainable Development Goals, and Devolution; a new dispensation that came into existence after the promulgation of the constitution, mandating and bestowing the function of planning to county governments.

With all these, however, one will still be keen to ask; Don’t we draw lessons from past experiences? Do we have risk assessment and early warning systems? Why do we wait to pick up the pieces instead of making necessary arrangements to prevent the pieces from falling? Are our planning systems geared towards corrective measures rather than preventive?

By Isaacnezer Kang’ethe.



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