28 November 2019

West Pokot: a landslide disaster in Kenya

Posted by Dave Petley

West Pokot: a landslide disaster in Kenya

Extremely heavy rainfall affected parts of Kenya on 23 and 24 November 2019, triggering extensive landslides and floods.  Worst affected was the county of West Pokot in the Rift Valley, where landslide events has caused at least 53 fatalities.  It has been hard to track down exactly what happened at this site, although the reports are consistent with a channelised debris flow.  An earlier report in the Independent for example indicates loss of life over multiple locations:-

Interior cabinet secretary Fred Matiangi claims 17 people died in a mudslide in the village of Takmal in the Pokot Central district, while 12 others lost their lives in mudslides in the villages of Parua and Tapach in Pokot South.

I’m wary of posting images from news reports in this case as it is clear that many of the pictures circulating show landslides from events elsewhere in the world.  However, the weather has now cleared and satellite images are becoming available.  Planet Labs captured an image of West Pokot on 27 November 2019.  The part of the image below shows the area around Takmal, which was reported to be a site of extensive landsliding:-

West Pokot landslides

Planet Labs Planetscope image of some of the West Pokot landslides. Copyright Planet Labs, used with permission.


This image appears to show multiple channelised debris flows, starting as small slips high in the catchment and then combining in the channel.  This is particularly apparent on the west side of the image.  However, note that this is also the case for Takmal itself (the marker shows the location).  Whilst there is some cloud at that point, the landsliding appears to be particularly acute there.

Meanwhile, there are also reports of a similar event in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo on 26 November 2019.  Some reports suggest at least 42 fatalities.  Once again there is a lack of clarity about exactly what has happened.


Planet Team (2019). Planet Application Program Interface: In Space for Life on Earth. San Francisco, CA. https://www.planet.com/