Metropolitan Archbishop of Nyeri Archdiocese, Anthony Muheria Metropolitan Archbishop of Nyeri Archdiocese, Anthony Muheria 

Kenya floods: Church grateful to Pope Francis for prayers and closeness

Kenya is reeling from devastating torrential rains that have brought floods, death, and injuries and forced tens of thousands from their homes.

Paul Samasumo – Vatican City. 

Kenya appears to have been spared the full impact of Tropical Cyclone Hidaya, which was expected to make landfall at the weekend. The storm weakened and dissipated; heavy rains were nevertheless still expected offshore along the Coastal regions. On Saturday, Tanzania reported electricity blackouts, heavy rains and strong winds from Cyclone Hidaya.

As of Monday morning, the number of people killed in the Kenyan floods rose to 228. This was according to the Ministry of Interior. 

Kenya is the country most affected, but floods have also occurred in Tanzania, Burundi, Somalia, and Rwanda. 

Over the weekend, Vatican News engaged the Metropolitan Archbishop of Nyeri Archdiocese, Anthony Muheria to shed more light on the situation of  floods, from a point of view of the Church. Archbishop Muheria is also the Apostolic Administrator of Embu Diocese.

Last Wednesday, during the General Audience, Pope Francis expressed his closeness and solidarity with the people of Kenya. This must mean a lot for the Church and the people of Kenya?

We thank the Holy Father Pope Francis for his solidarity message to us on the 1st of May in the wake of all the flooding we have been experiencing in Kenya. This is truly a great gesture of love by our common father. In spite of so many other things happening in the world, the Pope took this moment to send that word of comfort and to encourage us in these difficult circumstances that many Kenyans find themselves in, especially in the face of the heavy rains that have poured out in our country.  We thank him, especially for the promise of prayers for the victims, those who have died and have lost their lives in miserable situations, tragic situations.

We all unite ourselves with those words of comfort from Pope Francis to the families that have lost their loved ones, to those who have lost property, to those who have lost homes and find themselves in a state of distress and disorientation. 

Flooded Kitengela: A road heavily affected by floods following torrential rains
Flooded Kitengela: A road heavily affected by floods following torrential rains

Your Grace, from what you are seeing and hearing about the floods, how bad is the situation? 

Kenya normally experiences two rainy seasons, one around March and the other around October of each year. On average, the country receives about 900 millimetres of rainfall—some places more than others. This April, we have received almost double the monthly average rainfall this year. There was a tremendous amount of precipitation and rainfall within three weeks. Nairobi, which normally has an average monthly rainfall of 150 millimetres, has received well over 350 millimetres in just three weeks. 

What has then happened in the country is that this heavy rainfall all at a go, very heavy rain for long spells of time. It has caused all the rivers to flood.  It is a bit of a repeat of the phenomenon of El Niño that we had maybe 25 - 30 years ago. Unfortunately, our infrastructure is not prepared to receive that kind of rainfall. The rivers have flooded and gone over the bridges. The drainage is overflowing. Our towns and cities cannot cope with this kind of water surface runoff. So even the roads in our cities have become rivers that are flooded. This has meant that the whole infrastructure has been brought to its knees. But really, the more painful thing is that, on the downstream of the rivers towards the Indian Ocean, there has been tremendous flooding.

Then, some areas don't even have bridges but drifts because of the seasonal rivers. Those seasonal rivers have become bigger than ordinary rivers. Most unfortunately the imprudence of some of our people wanting to move from one place to another has caused many people trying to cross these rivers to be washed away. We've lost very many people who have been washed away by these floods as they attempted to cross. Some have been washed away in their vehicles in Makueni and Garissa. Others through canoes -a canoe that capsized recently was trying to cross these very strong current rivers. It capsized as it was trying to take people across the river. We lost many people. We have also had similar incidents in parts of Western Kenya and Nairobi. We have had massive flooding in the capital city.

Even the drains have carried away people in the slums. The foods have also caused some structures to give in and collapse.

So, we are really faced with these tragedies from all sides. The worst is the one in Mai Mahio in Nakuru County, where the water that had been contained—we are not sure whether it was a dam or just an embankment that had contained the rain— it caved in. A flood of water and mud swept an entire village. We lost many lives in this mudslide, and this is very painful. 

Sadly, our response to the disaster has been very slow. One of the lessons we are learning from this disaster is that we need more flexible, agile, and responsive disaster management. We could have saved a few of these people who have become victims. Also, the amount of property that has been destroyed—houses, crops, vehicles—is staggering. Many people have lost a lot of property.

Kajiado County: Residents affected after a seasonal river burst its banks
Kajiado County: Residents affected after a seasonal river burst its banks

What has the local Church's response been so far? What appeal would you like to make for the badly affected areas? 

So far, we have already experienced a fantastic response from Kenyans and in our dioceses. We see certain efforts from the government and other non-governmental organizations trying to assist. No doubt the Kenya Red Cross has helped so much, especially in trying to retrieve the bodies of those who have been trapped in these mudslides.  

As the Catholic Bishops of Kenya, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, led by our Chair, Archbishop Maurice Muhatia, we have called upon all Christians in Kenya to make a contribution in whatever kind -blankets, mattresses, clothing, utensils, foodstuffs, whatever can help these our brothers and sisters who don't have shelter, who are in the cold and the rain continues. 

We would also like to appeal to all organizations worldwide who can assist in a very specific way. First of all, we just need the basics: blankets, clothing, and shelter. These could be tents, if at all, or things that can, for the time being, in some areas, give people a place to stay.

Flash floods wiped out several homes following heavy rains in Kamuchiri village of Mai Mahiu
Flash floods wiped out several homes following heavy rains in Kamuchiri village of Mai Mahiu

First, it was a devastating dry spell and drought, but now it is the floods. With climate change, many of the world's most affected countries are the least polluters. What are your thoughts on that? 

I think it also comes in the wake of climate change discussions. These erratic weather patterns, the extremes we're experiencing, should also make us commit even more towards environmental care, climate securing and care for Mother Earth. Let us try to see how we can start regaining vegetation, planting more trees, and caring about pollution. Some of the drains are blocked because of plastics and other things that have been thrown or other rubbish that is thrown out, such as bottles, water bottles, etc. We can hold hands in truly impactful environmental programs.

We also appeal internationally, especially to churches with faith-based organizations. Working together, we can do a lot more.

Archbishop Anthony Muheria of Nyeri
Archbishop Anthony Muheria of Nyeri

Any last words? 

Once more, we want to thank the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for his care and love. Let us always feel close to one another. Let us pray for all those suffering and perhaps with little assistance -Christians or not, brothers and sisters like us in other parts of the world. Let's come to their aid. Let us pray that the Lord may console them and that the Lord may give them new hope.

Your Grace, thank you very much for your time. 


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06 May 2024, 16:11