When the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Kenya on March 12, 2020, little did we know it will last this long and stall economic and social activities the way it has. The government initiated various response measures - the need for social distancing, stay-at home/work from home routines, 4 am to 7 pm curfew which was extended to 9pm, cessation of movement in select counties and ban on international travels - to control the spread of the disease, leaving almost all sectors of the economy affected.
Most Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) lost revenue and are likely to go out of business. The Central Bank of Kenya Governor recently stated that seventy-five percent of SMEs risk closure by the end of June due to the impacts of coronavirus.
Manufacturing and processing industries, tourism and hotel sectors have also not been spared as operations have slowed or totally stopped. In effect, a significant number of people were either sent on compulsory leave or terminated thus exacerbating unemployment level in the country. The World Bank has projected that the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and economic growth will decelerate significantly. The World Bank in April 2020 estimated that Economic growth is expected to plummet from 5.4% in 2019 to 1.5% this year. Worst case scenario is a growth of 1%.
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Interestingly, while economic and social aspects have been negatively affected, the environment has been the beneficiary of the pandemic due to the existing ‘global shut-down’. Some recent scientific studies in China, USA, Italy and Spain and published in various journals have indicated that as a result of lockdowns, there have been short term positive outcomes such as improvement in air quality, reduction in carbon emission, clean beaches and environmental noise reduction.
Although there has been no scientific study in Kenya, the same results have been observed here. A lesson we learn from this experience is that it is actually possible to attain environmental sanity. But what happens when our lives and economy gets back to normal?
These environmental benefits will certainly be eroded in a short span of time immediately the world gets back to business as usual economic and social activities. Already economic activities are gradually resuming and in the context of the delicate balancing act of protecting livelihoods and economic growth vis a vis containing the spread of the virus, there is no doubt that the country will formally get back to normal business operation as soon as it will be possible.
The Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani announced during the Budget presentation to Parliament the plans to develop post Covid-19 recovery strategy while the President directed various sectors to develop resumption protocols. It is expected that all sectors of the economy will get back with a bang with industries optimising operations and striving to recover the lost times and revenues. Consequently, there will be high demand for resources; raw materials, water and energy for intensive production leading to increased emissions, waste generation and air pollution.
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In light of this, our most important concern should be how to sustain or minimise the dissipation of the environmental gains. If we are serious about sustainable development, then we must ensure that the post Covid-19 economic recovery strategy and its implementation plan mainstreams “green recovery”.
By green recovery I mean that our strategy and plan must present measures to reduce our consumption of resources and minimise or deal with wastes and emissions during the recovery period and beyond. This is not only a role of the government but also private sector and civil society.
The recovery strategy should underscore the fact that the ‘rest’ period provided by covid-19 is a good opportunity for both large scale manufacturers and SMEs in both productive and service industries to assess their resource consumption and waste generation patterns. It should encourage and provide an enabling environment to these actors to modify their industrial production processes and infrastructures in terms of designs, mechanics and methods to ensure that they espouse resource efficiency and effective wastes and emissions reductions.
This can include redesigns and retrofit industrial systems to be compatible with renewable forms of energy as well as ensuring water efficiency. The hotel industry is among the major consumers of energy and water purposefully for cooking, heating and warming. Most of these hotels use electricity from national grids and backup generators powered by fossil based fuels. Such hotels should consider adopting renewable forms of energy sources including installation of off-grid solar energy systems to replace national grid dependence and diesel based generators while reaping the benefits of cost reduction in the long term.
There are also water conservation technologies in the market including for water recycling and water saving toilets which can be installed or retrofitted in hotel infrastructure. The strategy should also mainstream sustainability measures in the recovery of the agriculture sector. This should include promotion of sustainable agricultural practices such as water efficient irrigation systems, organic farming and minimal tillage activities and restoration of rangelands. As expected, these adjustments require different levels of investments depending on the scale of modifications required and the size of enterprises. The government and development partners should therefore play critical roles in facilitating this transition through economic and non-economic instruments such as guarantee funds, tax exemptions and zero ratings and other forms of incentives to facilitate various entities to invest in required components and systems.
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We must support SMEs towards enabling them to transition to sustainable production and consumption for example by financing renewable energy based and more efficient technologies.
-The writer is Research Manager, National Environment Trust Fund (NETFUND)