Kenya (MNN) – Last week, several families from Solai, Kenya buried their loved ones following a dam break earlier this month.
Joel Macharia is the Kenya country director for Compassion International. He shares more about the Patel dam failure:
“On the night of 9th of May, about 8:30 pm in the evening, the dam burst. I think it took so much water from the ongoing heavy rains and sent so much water and debris and rocks and tree stumps and many other things. That gush of water came and found people in the settlement.”
According to the BBC, heavy rains have been plaguing the previously drought-ridden nation since March. Already before the dam break, 130 people had died due to the rain. This latest tragedy added to the death toll.
“All of it was swept away.”
The dam was being used for irrigation purposes before it burst. One settlement called Energy was hit especially hard. Macharia says this community of about 1,000 people is made up of mostly farmers. When he visited Energy two days after dam break, he was standing on bare ground. “All of it was swept away,” he says.
The surrounding areas sustained heavy damage as well. A nearby school where many of the local children attended was destroyed and the school furniture was carried off in the water. And, at least 400 households were displaced.
As of last week, Macharia says, “So many people are marooned by the floods, and by the time the whole flood water was passing, 48 people were dead and so many of them were injured.”
Many others were hospitalized and some remain in the hospital today.
Compassion International was impacted by this tragedy in a very personal way.
Five caregivers of Compassion children lost their lives. The term ‘caregiver’ refers to the parent or guardian taking care of the child. Additionally, a board member overseeing the local Compassion program was also killed.
Compassion’s local church partner and Child Development Center (CDC) sustained damage to their buildings. Four temporary classrooms were mostly destroyed and play equipment was carried away. Along with rebuilding and repair, school supplies will have to be replaced.
Over 40 beneficiares of the Compassion program in this area were affected.
Responding to Emergency
Compassion has been involved with meeting the needs of the people, especially the those of sponsored children and their families.
“The very first thing was search and rescue. When that was done, of course taking care of those people who were affected health-wise. Like, they either were sick or injured, they needed to be treated. Then of course, looking for shelter.”
Many of the locals initially took up residence in another school that escaped the worst of the damage. Relief groups along with Compassion gathered bedding, food, and other basic needs to give to them.
However, the school shelter has been closed so that it can begin functioning as a school again. So the search for more permanent shelter is on. There are 26 families directly under Compassion’s care in this area. The ministry is working to find them a housing solution. The CDC is working on building a temporary structure for some of the affected beneficiaries.
Since the dam break, Compassion teams have been able to gather food, clean water, cooking supplies, clothing, and other basics. As Macharia says, these people are starting their lives from scratch.
“At the same time, we are…working with the people to help them be able to… restart their livelihoods. Some of them were farmers. Their crops were carried away by water. Then we have some who have [a] small business that they need rebuild.
“The other thing that we did as an immediate response, and it’s also ongoing, is counseling because people are really affected or traumatized losing many things and especially losing their family members and their friends. There are many people who are bereaved.”
When the dam broke, local pit latrines were flooded, releasing raw sewage into the surrounding area. That, combined with the fact that people are homeless, living in the cold, and without food could spell disease and illness. To get ahead of the issue, Compassion is also organizing a health screening.
There’s still a lot of work to be done. Macharia says you can help, starting with prayer.
“We need to continue to pray for the families. There are many people within a very small community that when you lose 48 people, that’s a lot of people. So we need to continue to pray for those people who are grieving and mourning so that they are comforted and they can heal and recover and be resilient.”
Pray also for those who need a new home and those who have lost their caregivers, friends, and family.