Community traditional knowledge, perceptions and response to flood risks in Nyando basin, Western Kenya
Nyakundi, Hellen Mwango
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Flooding is one of the most widespread of climatic hazards that continues to pose serious multiple threats to public health. Globally, efforts to combat it have shifted towards long-term commitment to capacity building and broad based community involvement in flood risk interventions. In Kenya, the ability of local people to resist the impact of disasters has not been given adequate attention. This was descriptive cross sectional study and the objectives were to explore existing traditional flood knowledge, perceptions and behavior associated with flood risks and attitude of community towards external support. Most prone and least prone areas were selected for comparative analysis between the two risk levels. Flood area residents and institutional representatives were sampled using simple random sampling and a total of 528 households, 7 FGDs and 11 key informants participated in the study. The results were derived from questionnaires, Focus Group Discussions and key informant interviews. Data were analyzed using the SPSS Program. Chi-square test was used to determine association and difference between two variables. Results demonstrated in the study show that traditional flood knowledge and coping mechanism exist in the study area (80%) and these strategies were used as a trusted source of information and importance to this community. The findings revealed significantly greater level of awareness of flood hazards in the high risk areas in comparison to the low risk areas (p=0.001). They also demonstrated significant clear spatial differences in the level of awareness and use of traditional flood knowledge between respondents living in high and low risk areas. These were significantly influenced by demographic variables such as age, occupation, education and length of residency (p=.0001). Perception of risk was influenced by several variables, most notably past experience and level of exposure to risk. The burden of diseases was significantly higher during the flood season but the advantages of living in the flood plains seemed to outweigh the health risks associated with flooding. The result is a combination of innovative adjustability and passive acceptability of potential hazards. Most of these indigenous actions were taken at the household level to adapt to the health risks posed by floods. Aid dependency during flood disasters was found to have significantly contributed to decreased ability cope (high risk, p=0.026; low risk, p=0.003). This study concluded that there was a wealth of traditional flood knowledge which indicated some ability of the locals to be resilient. Higher perception of risk did not necessarily translate into better preparedness. Most indigenous coping actions were taken at the household level to adapt to the health risks posed by floods. The dependency syndrome and its pitfalls for creating less resilient communities was evident in this community. This study recommends that programs promoting the use of traditional flood knowledge should be integrated into official flood warning methods to exploit the local ways of predicting and coping with floods. The community needs to embrace both structural and non-structural measures to achieve the greatest results. The Government, NGO’s and CBO’s dealing with flood disasters in Nyando should focus on preparedness by enhancing local coping capacities on protection measures in anticipation of future flood events. Flood warning activities tailored to local social contexts will be instrumental in reducing vulnerability and strengthening capacity of the affected communities to respond more effectively to flood emergencies.