Kenya’s Beautiful Masai Mara Hit Hard by Floods—Here’s What Has Happened and How to Help

In the aftermath of catastrophic rains and flooding, a writer based in Kenya offers the latest updates on how local citizens, safari lodges, camps, and wildlife are faring, along with a vetted list of aid organizations.

A person wearing traditional Masai clothing walking along a flooded dirt road in Kenya with a cart tipped over in the water in the background

Kenya’s Masai Mara has been hit hard, but there are safari camps and lodges that remain open in the aftermath of the deluge.

Photo by Jen Watson/Shutterstock

May is usually a very special month for me. Traditionally, this month marks my annual pilgrimage to Kenya’s Masai Mara, where apart from immersing myself in the spectacular landscapes, I get to explore how the region is preparing for the wildebeest migration, which usually takes place toward the end of June to October. As a travel writer based in Kenya, it is my responsibility and privilege to inform the world about this annual phenomenon, one of the world’s greatest natural spectacles.

But this May has been quite different from the previous ones, not just for me but also for all of my fellow Kenyan citizens. As I was packing, getting ready to travel from Nairobi to the Mara, areas of the country, including the Mara, were battered by severe rains and flooding. The hardest hit were Nairobi, Kisumu, Narok, Nakuru, Kiambu, Machakos, Kajiado, and Meru. The safari camp Elewana Sand River, where I had a reservation, is situated near the Sand River in the Mara and the roads were flooded, making it too risky to travel—thus, my travel plans were canceled. (The Elewana Sand River has since reopened and is welcoming guests as of May 12.) I’ve spent most of my days since being inundated by news of people’s stories about the losses either of their homes, loved ones, businesses, or something else that they held dear. The precipitation that descended proved to us that the rains can sometimes be a double-edged sword—the blessing of much-needed water and the curse of flooding when there is too much all at once.

The flash floods have displaced nearly 200,000 Kenyans, according to the latest statistics from Kenya’s Ministry of Interior and National Administration. So far, 210 people have lost their lives, 90 people are still missing, and even as some schools reopen this week after being closed for a month for regular holidays, other schools will remain closed for at least another two weeks as local authorities assess the damage. It’s estimated that more than 15,000 schoolchildren will not be able to return to learning because their classrooms have been submerged in the water and for some, their homes too. Many businesses, both small and large, were also flooded.

Of all the travel destinations in Kenya, the Mara stands out as the most affected with wildlife devastated (there are no precise figures yet, but it is already known that wildlife has been deeply affected), residents impacted by the loss of their homes, and employment in question with a number of camps destroyed by water. More than 20 camps and lodges located along the Mara River, Talek River, and Sand River have been affected to varying degrees, according to the Mara Managers Association. Some of the lodges, like JW Marriott, had to airlift guests to safety. Thanks to the immediate response of the Narok County government, and organizations and companies, including Proflight Helicopters, the Red Cross, Masai Mara game reserve authorities, Mara Elephant Project, the James Savage rescue team, and others, those who had been trapped by the deluge in the Mara and in other regions like Nairobi, including tourists, staff, and locals, were rescued. In total, more than 90 tourists were evacuated in the Mara.

But it’s important to mention that there are camps and lodges in the Mara that have not been affected and are open.

While scientists and conservationists noted that the severe flooding has served as yet another example of the catastrophic effects of climate change, others believe that the floods have brought to light the need for better disaster management preparedness, not only in the Mara but throughout Kenya.

“In the wake of this crisis, we have come out in unity as an association and reached out to various stakeholders of the Masai Mara National Reserve to join hands to sustainably protect this fragile ecosystem for posterity. We are all currently speaking as one for the sake of the future of the Mara,” said Fairman Muhingi, a patron for the Mara Managers Association, a collective of professional camp managers in the Mara dedicated to enhancing Masai Mara’s tourism sector, empowering local communities, and promoting wildlife and conservation.

Others believe that this magnitude of disaster could have been prevented if proper infrastructure had been in place and authorities no longer allowed the overdevelopment of fragile ecosystems.

“The inability of state authorities to monitor development especially along the rivers is what has brought this disaster in the Mara. Most approvals are done without site visits. The carrying capacity of the Mara ecosystem in terms of lodge developments, beds, and bed nights has never been established. The destination must look back and correct wrongs in terms of the location of camps and lodges, define bed density, and carrying capacity,” said Judy Kepher-Gona, founder and lead consultant for Sustainable Travel and Tourism Africa, an organization in Kenya that works with companies, governments, and the tourism sector to ensure that they put sustainability into practice.

She also added that the tourism industry needs to reinvest its revenue into proper infrastructure.

“Little has changed in terms of infrastructure over the years except for the Narok Sekanani Road [one of the roads leading to the Masai Mara game reserve], which is already wearing out in some parts. How can the eighth wonder of the world operate on makeshift bridges that are washed away with every rain? Profiting from nature and wildlife without reinvesting in place is equal to abuse of nature,” Kepher-Gona stated.

In the midst of the chaos and catastrophe, however, the true spirit of the Kenyan people has emerged—resilient, resourceful, and unwavering in the face of adversity both in the Mara and other regions, such as Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumum, and Kiambu.

The region’s stakeholders, too, have joined forces to get the message out that the entire Masai Mara is not engulfed in floods, and representatives of the travel sector are encouraging visitors to still come and experience the destination. While it is expected that the floods will definitely have a negative effect on this year’s high season, which runs from July through October, especially since some camps and lodges were destroyed, most are working day and night to ensure that accommodations and services will be back up and running well before then.

“The whole experience reveals the power of nature, and travelers can still experience this when they tour the destination this year. We are working round the clock to ensure that we have a new camp before the high season,” said Valery Joanne Super, cofounder and chief executive officer of Emboo Camps, which is one of the camps hit by the floods.

How to help Kenya right now

There are many organizations, both local and international, that are supporting the flood victims in Kenya. Here are some of them.

The Kenya Red Cross

To donate:

The Kenya Red Cross has launched an emergency appeal for both food and nonfood contributions to families that have been affected by the floods. The Red Cross team is assisting by ensuring prompt emergency responses, conducting search and rescue missions, providing shelter kits, and seeing that essential supplies reach the people affected.

Savage Wilderness

To donate:

Using their swift water rescue skills, James Savage of Savage Wilderness and his team have the experience, qualifications, and equipment to help people who need to be evacuated in floods. Donations will assist greatly in ensuring that the victims are evacuated to a safe place.

Mathare Social Justice Center

To donate:

This is a community-based organization in Mathare in Nairobi that fights for social justice and human rights documentation. During this period, it has been supporting flood victims in informal settlements. These people often live in deplorable housing conditions with inadequate access to safe water to drink and poor sanitation.

Rotary Club International

To donate:

Through their various local branches, the organization is ensuring that the affected are assisted by donating food, clothing, and bedding.

Ethel Foundation for the Aged

To donate:

This foundation was established to ensure that the elderly live a dignified life free from abuse and neglect. Times of crisis such as floods reveal how vulnerable such communities are, and the foundation is ensuring that the elderly are receiving assistance, such as food, clothing, and shelter.

Team Pankaj Foundation

To donate: M-Changa Africa

In conjunction with Masai Mara Association, the Narok County Government and the Kenya Tourism Board, the foundation is distributing relief packs, which include mattresses, blankets, and food hampers to families that have been affected by the floods in the Mara.

Harriet Akinyi is a Nairobi-based writer and speaker who’s drawn to Africa’s less-visited destinations. Her work has appeared both in local and international outlets, including Skift, Conde Naste, CNBC, I News, and more.
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