Covering the lasting impact of a flood: A Q&A with Raquel Muigai and Aldem Bourscheit

By Letícia Duarte, Nathan Tisdale & Wilson Liévano

Rain fell relentlessly in several countries of the southern hemisphere this Spring, with Brazil and Kenya enduring some of the worst floods in their history. The extensive loss of life and the destruction of entire neighborhoods has served as a shocking reminder that the consequences of climate change are closer and more devastating than what most people think.

The tragedy also exposed the lack of preparation by local governments and the failures in flood prevention infrastructure and education, leaving policy makers with a crucial challenge as the waters recede and the reconstruction plans take shape.

We spoke with Report for the World corps members Raquel Muigai and Aldem Bourscheit, who cover environmental topics for Africa Uncensored in Kenya and O Eco in Brazil respectively, to understand the scope of the tragedy and their implication beyond the immediate destruction.

Muigai explained how the rain season turned into a disaster and what has : “Torrential downpours overwhelmed outdated drainage systems in cities like Nairobi and Mombasa, causing widespread flooding. Hundreds of people have perished in Kenya alone, with thousands more injured.”

In Brazil, the flood hit several states, particularly in the south of the country. Bourscheit describes the destruction as “a tragedy of Biblical proportions”:


The damage goes beyond the immediate loss of life and property. The floods have created a social, economical and health crisis, worsened by the slow pace in which the waters have receded, in turn exacerbating the inequality gap in multiple regions. The damage to native species and ecosystems is only starting to become clear, and it might be irreversible:

Although these tragedies have been covered extensively by the local and international media, both Muigai and Bourscheit highlighted the importance of keeping the focus on this issue beyond the current humanitarian crisis, with local journalists serving as watchdogs to hold local governments and businesses accountable for their part in this devastation and their role in the reconstruction of their communities: “ Having covered the floods, it’s become clear that Kenya’s poor drainage systems and settlement on riparian land have significantly worsened the impact. Overflowing rivers and clogged drains turned roadways into canals and entire neighborhoods into lakes,” said Muigai, adding that although the government had issued alerts and warnings for the residents of the areas at risk of flooding, there wasn’t an investment in infrastructure to lessen the impact of water accumulation.

At the same time, some of the residents of high risk areas disregarded the government warnings and refused to move, a decision that goes beyond safety and includes social and economic factors. For Muigai, journalists can contribute by investigating “the corruption that goes on within the land and construction space to see how licenses are issued to allow for construction of buildings on riparian land.”

Bourscheit believes the Brazilian media should approach their coverage with a longer time span, not just focusing on the emergency, but reporting on the processes that have led to the current situation and those who will shape future responses:

Some local politicians in Brazil have started to spin the tragedy to help their aspirations, which can lead to more disinformation around climate topics, an issue that contributed to worsen the current crisis.  Bourscheit believes that tragedies at the scale of these floods will become more common all over the world; and regardless of where they happen, we as a species have develop a shared vision to prepare the people for dramatic changes that will come.

In the short term, Muigai believes there are key measures that the Kenyan government can take to reduce the likelihood of a flood as devastating as this year’s “First, drainage systems require a complete overhaul. Significant investment will expand and upgrade existing infrastructure, with a focus on clearing debris and regular maintenance. Second, safeguarding riparian lands is crucial. Stricter laws with harsh penalties for construction on these zones, will deter encroachment. These coupled up with early warning systems and well-equipped rescue teams will be essential to ensure immediate support for affected communities,” she said.

Bourscheit hopes that this traumatic season helps Brazilians understand that climate change is not a far-away concept that doesn’t affect them and that they need to pressure their government to take preventive measures, even if they are not politically or economically attractive: