Underfunded, Underutilised & Overwhelmed: Inside Kenya’s Disaster Management Crisis


Key Highlights

  • Kenya’s disaster preparedness and mitigation remain wanting.
  • Budgetary allocations to agencies fighting disasters increase marginally.
  • Counties remain a weak link in disaster management.
  • What next as climate change intensifies the extent of natural disasters?

Kenya is no stranger to the wrath of nature, facing a barrage of natural disasters from prolonged droughts to devastating floods. However, as the frequency and intensity of these disasters increase, the nation’s capacity to manage them effectively is being put to the test.

Despite the glaring need for robust disaster management strategies, an in-depth analysis reveals a concerning trend: Kenya’s disaster management budget has seen only marginal increases over the past five years, failing to keep pace with the escalating climate-induced disasters.

Amidst the chaos of emergencies, the inadequacy of disaster management funds becomes starkly evident. Government institutions responsible for disaster mitigation and response are often forced to scramble for emergency funds, resorting to reallocating budgets from other sectors.

Institutions tasked with responding to emergencies and disasters, whether natural or otherwise, are expected to play pivotal roles in Kenya’s disaster management framework.

The State Department for Internal Security and National Administration, alongside the State Department for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands, as well as the Ministry of Water and Sanitation, and Irrigation, hold considerable responsibilities in addressing the impact of floods—a persistent threat in the country’s terrain.

A section of Kiamumbi in Kiambu County was destroyed by floods on April 30, 2024


Francis Koina

Additionally, the National Disaster Management Unit, Disaster Risk Operations, and the emergency teams of the Kenya Defence Forces stand poised to mobilize resources and expertise in times of crisis.

These are manly arms of the national government. Similarly, under the county government, there are disaster management teams, and funds set aside annually, for the mitigation and prevention of disasters and response to emergencies when they crop up.

Over the years, budgetary allocations for disaster management have seen incremental increases. However, despite rising allocations, the resources are often insufficient to mount effective responses to emergencies, prompting the government to resort to donor funding or reallocating resources meant for other purposes.

For instance, the Disaster Risk Reduction budget received allocations of Ksh36.35 million, Ksh38 million, Ksh43.96 million, and Ksh41 million between 2020 and 2024, with a proposed allocation of Ksh45 million in the latest budget cycle.

These amounts are often eclipsed by the amounts sought and issued during the disaster response. In the ongoing floods, for instance, which have already claimed 219 lives and left over 27,000 homeless, the government is seeking an allocation of up to Ksh20 billion to combat the floods.

In 2023, the State Department for ASALs and Regional Development spent Ksh8.2 billion for emergency relief assistance to combat El Nino rains.


At the county level, the picture is equally troubling. Despite earmarked funds for disaster management, underspending and misallocation persist, raising questions about the efficacy of local response mechanisms. Inadequate coordination and a dearth of reliable data further compound these issues, hampering proactive measures to mitigate disaster risks.

A damning audit report by the Auditor General sheds light on the government’s lackluster response to floods, exposing deficiencies in preparedness, coordination, and recovery efforts. Despite floods being a recurring phenomenon, the absence of a clear legal framework and policy framework exacerbates the situation, prolonging the suffering of affected communities.

Despite earmarking a substantial sum of Ksh1.9 billion for emergency services in the 2023/2024 financial year, data from the Office of the Controller of Budget (CoB) paints a disconcerting picture. Out of this allocation, only Ksh963 million has been spent as of December last year, leaving a staggering Ksh973 million unspent.

This underutilization of funds points to the challenges faced by county governments in adequately preparing for and managing disasters.

Despite the urgent need for prompt and decisive action in response to floods, only 34 out of the 47 counties have established emergency or disaster funds for the current financial year.

Surprisingly, several counties, including Tana River, Nandi, Bungoma, and Kakamega, have yet to utilise any funds from their allocated emergency budgets, despite the imminent threat of floods.

Nairobi City County stands out as an exception, with 90 per cent of its approved disaster budget for the year already disbursed. However, questions remain regarding the efficacy of counties’ responses, given the significant sums left untapped amidst the ongoing crisis.

“The audit revealed that the government response to floods was characterised by inadequacies and deficiencies in response and recovery. This was attributed to challenges in governance and preparedness by the agencies entrusted with the role,” the audit says.

This reactive strategy, while momentarily alleviating immediate needs, proves unsustainable and undermines long-term disaster preparedness and mitigation efforts.


While shortages and underutilization of funds have been a big challenge in disaster management, the question of policy has also emerged.

The dependency on reaction and redirecting of funds has been highlighted by both the National Treasury and the World Bank.

In June 2022, ahead of Kenya’s 2022/2023 budget announcement, the World Bank sounded a clarion call, urging the nation to reevaluate its approach to disaster and emergency management funding.

Citing a concerning reliance on ad hoc budget adjustments within ministries and state agencies in response to crises, the multilateral lender highlighted the detrimental impact of this practice on response times and program implementation.

“The financial year 2019/20 revealed some weaknesses in the Kenyan ability to effectively finance a disaster response with poor contingency planning and an overreliance on reallocations,” remarked the World Bank.

Fund reallocations, often facilitated through supplementary budgets, emerged as the primary method of financing disaster response activities, with notable budget adjustments of up to 68 percent within key disaster risk management agencies.

Official records for the fiscal year 2019/20 paint a stark picture, with the Treasury reallocating approximately Ksh50 billion from various ministries and agencies towards disaster response—a stark contrast to the initial provision of Ksh5 billion for contingencies.

The World Bank’s concerns were echoed by Kenya’s National Treasury, in its Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) on the Public Finance Management for the proposed Disaster Management Fund Regulations 2022 noted, “Management of disasters in Kenya faces challenges of inadequate funds by agencies responsible for disaster management. In particular, disaster response and recovery efforts have been affected the most by insufficiency in funds.”

Way Forward

In a poignant address on Friday, May 3, President William Ruto drew a stark connection between Kenya’s ongoing flooding crisis and the broader spectrum of climate change. While acknowledging the immediate imperative of addressing the unfolding disaster, he pointed to the imperative of confronting the underlying environmental challenges driving these crises.

“For us to comprehensively address such a threat in the long term, we have to acknowledge and act to reverse the adverse effects of climate change,” President Ruto asserted. 

He lamented the cyclical nature of Kenya’s current predicament, citing the recent devastating drought—a culmination of five consecutive failed rains—as evidence of the nation’s vulnerability to climate variability.

Highlighting the interconnectedness of environmental degradation and its human toll, President Ruto issued a sobering warning: “Our country will remain in this cyclical crisis for a long time unless and until we confront the existential threat of climate change.” 

With his remarks, the only hope is that his government will lead the way with larger allocations to disaster management institutions, and also the review of laws to ensure the country takes proactive measures to avert disasters rather than just reacting.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua inspecting the aftermath of Mai Mahiu tragedy, April 29.



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