December 1, 2023

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The reality that climate change is impacting on the socio-economic fabric of Kenya is becoming more profound with every passing decade.  Unprecedented extreme weather events in recent times have been cited as being crucial indicators to the effect that climate change was and is being felt in Kenya. For example, the 1997/98 El Niño cost the economy an estimated US$ 1.2 billion in infrastructural damage, affecting an estimated 1 million people. This was unprecedentedly followed by drought from 1998 to 2000 that cost the economy an estimated US$ 9 million. If information from the weatherman is to go by then the country is bracing itself for heavy rains beginning October 2015 that may result in El Niño.

These are not one-off events that can be wished away but rather proof that climate change is actually impacting on the nation.

Impacts of Climate Change in Kenya

Some of the observable impacts of climate change, as well as some projected impacts in Kenya include the following:

  • Floods and flash floods resulting from torrential rains have destroyed infrastructure and property, claimed lives and displaced many more. The obvious case scenario being the 1997/98 El Niño that resulted in massive economic losses as was described above.Worse still, during floods, diseases such as cholera, typhoid and bilharzia reach epidemic levels. This has been a burden on the already stretched public health infrastructure.
  • The increasing incidence of desertification, i.e. more land mass is continually becoming arid and semi-arid land (ASAL). As of 2013, approximately 85% of the total Kenyan land mass was ASAL, with a paltry 15% being arable, occasioned by higher temperatures and varied precipitation.  In other words, ASAL areas are slowly encroaching into arable land and the tragedy of this being that 60% of Kenyan pastoral communities are found in these ASAL areas.
  • Drought has resulted from the failure of rain in some seasons. The net result has been scarcity of water resource. Famine resulting from massive crop failure has caused food insecurity. To put this in context, the 2009 drought and subsequent crop failure placed an estimated 10 million people (quarter of the population) at risk of malnutrition, hunger and starvation.
  • Climate change has resulted in biodiversity losses. Kenya’s rich flora and fauna is one of its most valuable assets, however species losses have been observed while in other places indigenous species numbers of trees and animals are dwindling.
  • Climate change has resulted in resource use conflicts, such as human-wildlife conflicts. For instance, pastoralists in search of pasture and water have encroached into game parks chasing away wild animals from their natural habitat while on the same breath; drought has pushed the wild animals closer to waterholes and vegetation near human settlements.
  • Climate change has considerably affected Kenya’s energy supply. Hydropower that supplies the country 70% of its electricity has suffered over the past two decades from catchment destruction. Indiscriminate cutting of trees in river catchments in Kenya’s water towers has seen receding river discharge and reduced water volumes in generating dams.  Climate change has exacerbated thisby prolonging events of drought that see further reduction in water levels.
  • Global warming and climate change have been observed to disrupt or destroy tourist attractions. For instance, the snow-caps of Mount Kenya have are melting while the great wildebeest migration has been under threat from reduced river flow. These have and will continue to impact negatively on the tourism sector.

Adaptation and Mitigation Measures

Adaptation measures reduce the vulnerability to avoid or cushion the impacts of climate change, to create a climate-resilient society. The following are some of the adaptation measures being implemented in Kenya:

  • In the agricultural sector, the government has invested and promoted technologies that are geared towards food production. These include fast growing crops, drought tolerant crops and early maturing crops.
  • Conservation of water resources has been pursued through water conservation technologies such as drip irrigation, water harvesting technologies to trap storm water, recycling waste water and reducing water wastage through burst pipes.
  • Pastoral communities have been encouraged to breed animals that adapt well to climatic vagaries. Further, the government has promoted livelihood diversification in drought-stricken areas such as cultivating drought-tolerant crops like millet and practicing bee-keeping.
  • Plans to ensure that infrastructure is climate-proof over its lifespan have been established. This has included appropriate siting of the developments and designing infrastructure that can withstand prevailing climatic conditions e.g. strong winds, floods or high temperatures.
  • Disaster preparedness by relevant agencies has been strengthened and early warning systems devised in collaboration with mass media outlets. These have served to reduce susceptibility to climate related disasters.

Mitigation measures are actions that encourage reduced emissions of Green House Gases (GHGs) for a resource efficient economy that is as low-carbon as possible. Some of the measures include:

  • The government is implementing the Green Energy Development Programme that seeks to take advantage of Kenya’s abundant renewable energy resources. These include wind power generation, solar energy capture and production of biofuels. These will cushion hydropower which is affected by unreliability of rain. More importantly, these alternative energy sources minimize GHG emissions.
  • The government has up scaled afforestation and re-afforestation efforts in order to increase tree cover and subsequently enhance carbon sinks. Such measures include gazetted farm forestry rules that require every farm to have at least 10% tree cover. This is in a bid to bring forest cover nationally to the 10% minimum required by the United Nations from the current 6%.
  • Industries in Kenya are among the leading GHG emitters in Kenya. Therefore, the government has encouraged adoption of cleaner production technologies that have ensured maximum use of raw materials while minimizing waste generated at the end-of-pipe e.g. recycling.
  • The government has through its agencies educated the masses on how they can gain monetarily while participating in environmentally sound practices through ‘carbon trading’. This has allowed those participating to sell Certified Emission Reduction (CER) credits to developed countries that are high net emitters of GHGs. This is done on the basis of Kyoto Protocol’s Cleaner Development Mechanism (CDM).

In conclusion therefore, these measures which the Kenyan government is pursuing earnestly should be able to cushion the country against the vagaries of a changing climate both in the short term and long term.

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