Barely two weeks since the Africa Climate Summit was concluded in Nairobi, Africa stands at the precipice of yet another catastrophe, a crisis whose solution seems so near yet too far, especially on matters in the hands of the Global North.
This week, flooding and earthquakes pushed Libya and Morocco to headlines, with a combined death toll of more than 15,000 and thousands still missing.
Loss and damage in property and infrastructure run into billions of dollars, and it might take ages to rebuild, especially for the poor. As usual, increased vulnerability to waterborne and other diseases, food scarcity, gender-based violence, family separation, lost children on the move, conflict over aid, forced migration and reduced resilience, follow such disasters.
Africa is particularly vulnerable to the climate crisis due to inadequate infrastructure and limited access to clean water and sanitation, increasing the risk of health challenges during and after floods. While Kenya has not suffered such deaths, losses and injuries as Libya and Morocco, it is no excuse to relax in the face of El Nino.
The move by Nairobi county government to clear drainages and build new ones, especially along major roads may look minor for now, until it begins to rain and you are stuck in traffic for hours, with the risk of trees falling on vehicles high; or neighbourhoods, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure marooned. Counties must make use of the early warning by the Meteorological Department and retrofit existing infrastructure to withstand extreme weather.
A crucial matter during flooding is water management. Chances of flood waters messing wells, boreholes, springs and underground tanks are high. Now is time to reinforce and do necessary repairs to protect families. People must also be protected from cartels who engineer water scarcity in estates amid plenty, to sell that whose source is unknown during this season. And since rainy and drought seasons pass buttons like runners, this will be the time to harvest and store rain water for future use, especially in usually drought stricken areas.
The most vulnerable to effects of climate change are in urban slums, villages, especially in flood or landslide prone areas. Counties should therefore be recruiting and training emergency response teams now, even as they stockpile essential supplies, and establishing evacuation plans for flood-prone areas. The vernacular FM stations are a useful tool to build capacity of the people in the grassroots on what to expect, how El Nino manifest and the solutions in their hands.
Though faced with high taxation and economic challenges, Kenya should not face El Niño challenges in isolation, or fear to seek short or long-term help to address the climate crisis. International cooperation and partnerships are vital in addressing the broader issue of climate change, especially to build resilience and adapt to changing climatic conditions.
Those bilateral donors that appear when disaster strikes and lives are lost must begin to operate in the spirit of “prevention is better than cure”, especially if they cannot contribute through the Green Climate Fund. They must work with governments to fund reinforcement of bridges, roofs in schools and other social places.
El Niño disrupts livelihoods, food security, health and infrastructure, among many more life’s aspects. We must build a more resilient future and encourage local communities to take active roles in disaster preparedness and adaptation.
For now, everyone is at risk of severe El Nino effects. Counties should prioritise people’s security and prepare for El Nino immediately. Only a foolish man waits for a foreseeable disaster to strike before they can act.
The writer is a climate justice advocate. @lynno16