The rising waters of four lakes in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya has been in the news for months now. One would be forgiven to think that all possible angles to it have been explored in the many reports already published. But, freelance journalist and DIRAJ member Anne Macharia still believe there were untold stories worth a trip across the four lakes.
“We have seen videos of flooding including submerged hotels and flooded towns, but I kept asking myself – what is the situation for the residents?” She said. This question Anne says meant the people dimension had not been sufficiently explored and this robbed the story of prominence and the human interest angle; two significant elements that contribute to newsworthiness.
Anne spent a week in the Rift Valley and she was on the lookout for a people-centred story angle and to question the causes of flooding as had been previously reported in previous stories.
“Degradation is a major cause of flooding. There has been a massive felling of trees in the catchment area and a land use planning failure. If you look at River Perkerra, one of the rivers draining into Lake Baringo, the water is brown, a clear sign of soil erosion,” Anne said. She added that the experts she interviewed dispute tectonics movement as a possible cause for the flooding, instead, laying the blame squarely on deforestation and increased rainfall in the catchment area and in the region.
A humanitarian issue
According to Anne, there are humanitarian issues in the areas around the flooded lakes that have not been given sufficient media coverage. “I looked at the people in Baringo and it was devastating. Homes are marooned and hundreds are displaced but there is no form of humanitarian support; not by government, not by civil society.”
Referring to a resource on the DIRAJ website, she says there is a need for public service journalism in times of crisis. In the handbook – Disaster Through a Different Lens, Jonathan Baker, former Professor of Journalism at the University of Essex, and BBC editor emphasises the need to highlight humanitarian needs of communities at the onset of a disaster.
“Everyone is a public service broadcaster in these circumstances. Sometimes, audiences will want to know what they can do to help – with money, food, clothing, medical supplies – and the coverage can advise them on what is most needed and how it can be conveyed to the disaster zone,” he writes in the chapter – Disaster Risk Reduction and The Media.
Humanity against nature
According to Anne, all the four lakes tell different stories of how human activity has for years been going against nature, with disastrous results. In Lake Nakuru where she sought to do a story on the reduced Flamingo population, she says pollution from Nakuru town is making the water toxic, while in Lake Naivasha, the flooding is driven by the encroachment of riparian land for agricultural and housing developments.
We asked Anne to share some of the lessons she had learnt while on this trip. “Prepare! Prepare psychologically because the situations of families in crisis can weigh down on a journalist. But also prepare to work in that environment; I say this because I forgot to carry gumboots and had to walk barefoot in possibly infected water,” she said, adding that journalists can anticipate as much as possible before going to the field to help them prepare accordingly.
Watch Anne’s interview here: