Shared Responsibility: Disaster Management Between Kenya’s National and County Governments

The ongoing rains and resulting floods persist, causing loss and widespread panic fueled by uncertainty about when and where the storm waters will strike. Concerns about building safety and the impending school reopening heighten anxiety. While county governments undertake some rescue efforts, they are widely seen as inadequate. Criticism mounts over the failure to take proactive measures despite early rain warnings. The lack of substantive communication from government has left many Kenyans wondering about the roles and responsibilities of both levels of government in disaster management.

Disaster management in Kenya is a shared responsibility between the National government and the devolved county governments. According to the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, disaster management functions and responsibilities constitute concurrent functions under Article 186(2) meaning both levels of government have defined roles and responsibilities in this area.

The Fourth Schedule of the Constitution delineates the division of responsibilities between the national and county governments. Part 1, Section 24, designates disaster management functions to the national government, while Part 2, Section 12, allocates related duties to county governments. Furthermore, Legal Notice No. 16 of February 1, 2013, transferred firefighting services and disaster management functions to county governments.

The national government oversees overarching disaster management policies, provides support for large-scale disasters, and co-ordinates national-level responses. County governments, on the other hand, are responsible for implementing disaster management activities at the local level, including preparedness, response, and recovery efforts within their respective jurisdictions.

As a concurrent function, Kenya’s disaster response system operates on the Principle of Subsidiarity. County governments take the lead in managing disasters at levels 1 or 2, while national involvement increases for levels 3 or 4. County Governors oversee local responses, while Presidential engagement is reserved for national emergencies.

Disasters are categorized into different levels, each with its own response framework. At Level 1, disasters are managed locally by the County Governor, with routine services. Level 2 situations may strain local resources but remain manageable within the county’s capacity, still overseen by the County Governor. However, Level 3 disasters require the mobilization of national resources, prompting Presidential involvement. In cases of Level 4 disasters that overwhelm national capacity, Presidential engagement is necessary for regional or international assistance.

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