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Children use a fallen tree trunk to cross a river during the dry season in Mikemani village, Tana River County. Photo: Lisa Murray/Concern WorldwideA man uses a small bridge to cross a river in Mikemani village, Tana River County. Photo: Lisa Murray/Concern WorldwideA man uses a small bridge to cross a river in Mikemani village, Tana River County. Photo: Lisa Murray/Concern Worldwide

"I fear crocodiles will attack the children” - The Bridges of Tana River County

"I fear crocodiles will attack the children” - The Bridges of Tana River County
Story6 September 2023Hugh Golden

“When the crocodile grabbed my leg, I immediately thought about my death.”

The people living along the banks of the Tana River, the longest river in Kenya, know the river brings life, and takes it away.

Mohammed is sitting outside his mud-walled home, his crutch leaning on the plastic chair. Since losing his leg to a crocodile attack, while crossing a makeshift bridge over flood water, life has been hard. “I moved from a position where I could independently support myself to a situation where I always require support. It is not easy, but together with my wife we try every day to provide for our five children.”

Mohammed, of Handaraku, Tana River County, Kenya, suffered a crocodile attack while crossing a makeshift bridge. Photos: Eugene Ikua/Concern Worldwide
Mohammed, of Handaraku, Tana River County, Kenya, suffered a crocodile attack while crossing a makeshift bridge. Photos: Eugene Ikua/Concern Worldwide

Euniah Natalie Miruka, a team member of Concern Worldwide in Kenya, is standing in Handaraku, Mohammed's home village. She is looking at a jumble of timber spanning the river, near the scene of his accident. 

“When the flooding happens, the community cannot leave because all of the routes are blocked by water. The communities resort to building makeshift bridges, like the one behind me. The bridge is not safe. This morning we had an incident where someone was very sick and they had to be carried across this bridge behind me.”
 

A Concern staff, Omar Bawata, attempts to cross a make shift bridge in Handaraku village, Tana River county. Photo: Shaloam Strooper/Concern Worldwide
A Concern staff, Omar Bawata, crosses the makeshift bridge in Handaraku village, Tana River County, near where Mohammed lost his leg to a crocodile. Photo: Shaloam Strooper/Concern Worldwide

The age of climate change adaptation

Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and the world’s poorest people are the most severely impacted. While the consciousness of the most developed societies in the world is still rooted in climate change mitigation, with a focus on high-level diplomacy and carbon emissions, the world’s poorest people have already been forced into the age of climate change adaptation.

People living in extreme poverty, like Mohammed, are especially vulnerable to climate-induced natural disasters. Those with the least assets and resources struggle to stockpile for contingency purposes and are vulnerable to losing everything in a single event.

“The flood water washes through the community, through their homes, and they lose all their household items. They lose their assets; their animals – their cows and their goats.”

Euniah Natalie Miruka, Concern Worldwide Kenya

For the people of Tana River County, flooding is now part of life, and the difference between a flood event and a flood disaster is adaptation. The need to remain connected to essential services, and each other, is represented by bridges built with sticks and branches, lifelines of varying size and intricacy.

Alex Ogeto Nyabuti, Team Lead for Concern Worldwide in particular Tana River County, Kenya, crosses a stream on a locally constructed wooden bridge. Photo: Concern Worldwide/Kieran McConville
Alex Ogeto Nyabuti, Team Lead for Concern Worldwide in particular Tana River County, Kenya, crosses a stream on a locally constructed wooden bridge. Photo: Concern Worldwide/Kieran McConville
A bridge in Kenya’s Tana River County, pictured in the dry season. Photo: Lisa Murray/Concern Worldwide
A bridge in Kenya’s Tana River County, pictured in the dry season. Photo: Lisa Murray/Concern Worldwide

The Zurich Flood Resilience Programme

Concern Worldwide, in partnership with the Z Zurich Foundation, is supporting Tana River communities to become more resilient to flooding.

The Zurich Flood Resilience Programme seeks to complement, and build upon, local ingenuity and local initiatives. To achieve this in Tana River County, Concern needed to learn as much as possible about how the communities were already coping, and the particular barriers or challenges self-identified by the communities. 

This learning came through a process of information collection called the Zurich Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities (or FRMC). The FRMC process provides a uniquely detailed insight into how vulnerable communities cope with flooding. This process forms the bedrock of all Zurich Flood Resilience Programmes, which are currently operating in over 20 countries. 

On the basis of the FRMC process, an action plan was formed by the community, with the upgrading of bridges agreed as a priority. 

Through engaging with the programme, the Tana River communities were able to advocate for outside investment in a permanent bridge, now under construction. The bridge, wide and sturdy enough to carry vehicles, will ensure that the community is safely connected all year round.

The permanent bridge under construction in Mikameni village in Kenya’s Tana River County. The photo was taken in dry season, when the people can still cross the dry river bed. Photo: Lisa Murray/Concern Worldwide
The permanent bridge under construction in Mikameni village in Kenya’s Tana River County. The photo was taken in dry season, when people can cross the dry river bed. Photo: Lisa Murray/Concern Worldwide

We are living in danger

In nearby Handaraku, Concern is advocating for a similar bridge to be built. For one man, in particular, it is long overdue. It has been nineteen years since a crocodile attacked Mohammed, while he was midway across an improvised, makeshift bridge.

“When I see the river water, my memory immediately takes me to the moment I was attacked,” says Mohammed, sitting surrounded by his family “When the water levels are high, I get very scared, and I even cancel my plans and return to my house.”

“We are living in danger. Five to six hundred children cross that river everyday going to school. This is why we are asking for a proper bridge.”

“Not just me, but the entire community will be very happy.”

Mohammed, who lost his leg in a crocodile attack, with his wife and five children in Handaraku, Tana River Country, Kenya. Photo: Eugene Ikua/Concern Worldwide
Mohammed, who lost his leg in a crocodile attack, with his wife and five children in Handaraku, Tana River Country, Kenya. Photo: Eugene Ikua/Concern Worldwide
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