In the last decade, Kakamega County, located in the western region of Kenya, has experienced a fair share of natural disasters such as lightning strikes, seasonal flooding, and landslides during the rainy season, as well as man- made disasters such as fires, mine shaft collapse and road accidents.

These disasters pose serious threats to the lives and livelihoods of residents in the county. To address these challenges, the county formulated a legal framework that would enable them to carry out its disaster management role referred to as the Kakamega County Disaster Management Act of 2015. To operationalise the Act, the county formed a Disaster Management Committee (DMC), made up of members drawn up from different departments, to oversee the coordination of disaster management in the county.

Jacob Shamala is among the 15 appointed to be Disaster Management Committee members. Before devolution, Jacob worked as a Senior Public Health Officer in the Municipal Council of Kakamega before being seconded to the County Government as the acting Director (Public Health Officer) Ministry of Environment. To take up and carry out his duty as a DMC member, he had to first understand what the Act was about. A workshop was organised by the Humanitarian Leadership Academy East Africa to orient the DMC members on the Act and enable them to formulate basic actions to operationalise it. This was successfully carried out in November 2016 with all the DMC members present.

“When I was first appointed to be a DMC member, I did not know what was expected of me, but through that workshop, I was able to know and understand my role in operationalising the Act.”

The orientation workshop was an eye opener for the DMC members as they realised that in order to carry out their duties effectively, their skills and capacities needed to be enhanced first. For instance, Jacob realised that responding to crises should not be done in an ad hoc manner but rather planning should be done way ahead so that the response is effective and many lives are saved with little damage to property.

He also realised that it was necessary to map out and rank the disasters as they occur in the county, as this has an implication on response. In response to this identified need, The Academy in collaboration with the County Government planned and carried out a set of trainings on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) and Project Management in April 2017 and a ‘write shop’ workshop in November 2017. Jacob got a chance to attend all the trainings.

“I now have a lot of knowledge on how to conduct rapid assessments, the importance of personal safety and security when responding to disasters, how to conduct an after-action review after responding to a disaster and how to reduce risks in the county. I can speak confidently on disaster issues affecting the county.”

The trainings and workshop equipped Jacob and the entire DMC team with skills that came in handy as they responded in Ilala sub county where some houses had collapsed due to heavy rains.

“The response this time round was well coordinated and timely as everyone knew what was expected of them when they reached the disaster scene. In previous responses, before orientation to the Act and trainings, we would get to the scene and everyone is giving orders leading to confusion.” said Jacob.

In December 2017, the DMC members embarked on drafting the county Contingency Plan and Disaster Manual. Once in place, these documents will provide guidance that will enable the county to deliver on the mandate of planning, mitigating, responding and managing disasters effectively in the county.

“We are looking forward to finalising our Disaster Manual and Contingency Plan, to ensure our Disaster Operation Centre is up and working with all structures in place.”

Working with Kakamega County gave the East Africa Academy Centre first-hand experience in working with the devolved system of government.

“As DMC members, Kakamega county is looking up to us to give leadership and direction to disasters in the county, so we would like to thank the Humanitarian Leadership Academy for sponsoring the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management training. We learnt a lot and this will go a long way in strengthening our committee.”

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