There was an inexcusable degree of personal folly in flying to Dar es Salaam and in the direction of Cyclone Kennedy this week. Firstly, given last month’s impact of Cyclone Idai across Southern Africa, it occurred as mildly risky. More fundamentally, my 670km flight released 22,386 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Given that air travel is one of the largest accelerators of climate chaos, I could be accused of intentionally risking double injury in one action. The evidence of what we are doing to planet earth is inescapable. We must ask again, why are we not concerned enough to stop the damage?
Cyclone Kennedy is the second one to hit southern Africa in one month. It’s older sibling Cyclone Idai killed 1,000 people, damaged two million people’s livelihoods and cost Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi over Sh100 billion in damage. Over 4,000 people are still grappling with cholera. It is one of the worst and costliest tropical cyclones in Africa.
Cyclone Idai also robbed Kenyans of the vital March-May rains by diverting moisture away from us. According to the World Bank, Kenya will lose another Sh117 billion or 2.4 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product this year, due to global warming.
In this context, food shortages and water scarcity are predictable. Food importers and millers will make a killing and people will die. As our mountains and rivers slowly dry up, so will the bio-diversity that attracts tourists to Mount Kenya or the great wildebeest migration across the Maasai Mara River. There is a single connection between last year’s snowfall in Nyahururu and failing rains this year, last month’s 4.8 magnitude earthquake, Mount Kenya fires and cyclones in our regional neighbourhood. That connection is global warming and climate change.
While some of the political class and some citizens preoccupy themselves with referenda on new political boundaries, mother nature is redefining our country’s boundaries into just three. They are drought prone counties (Eastern, North Eastern, Coast and parts of Rift Valley), flood prone counties (Western, Nyanza and Tana River) and landslide prone counties (Central and the Mount Kenya region).
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Last week was Africa Climate Week. Papers and speeches were made in workshops and conferences. A few people were also moved to organise marches and the odd public action to raise public awareness. While the actions reflect a sense of urgency, they are insufficient to create a sense of public urgency among millions of citizens and their leaders across the continent.
Elsewhere in Europe, three generations of citizens declared an end to their Governments’ denialism and their lack of concerted action. The face of this movement is a young Swedish teenager and her name is Greta Thunberg. She and her secondary school colleagues across Europe have vowed to boycott school on Fridays until their Governments acts decisively to stop rising climate chaos.
Last week, the 16-year-old travelled by land (sic) from Stockholm to London. As she addressed UK Parliamentarians, thousands of British activists took to the streets to non-violently disrupt traffic. They had three demands; Government must declare climate change a national emergency; act to prevent further bio-diversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the crisis as a bi-partisan issue in Parliament. No less than 830 supporters of the Extinction Rebellion movement were willing to be arrested to make their point.
Their passion for a sustainable planet can also be found in Lamu County. Confronted with a 32-berth mega port, Lapsset project and the 1050-megawatt Lamu dirty Coal Power Plant, 47 communities representing fishers, farmers, pastoralists and others from the Bajun, Aweer, Sanye, Orma and the Swahili came together to create the Lamu Biocultural Community Protocol.
Given the increasing nature related hazards facing Kenyans, it is time we saw concerted calls and non-violent direct actions to legislate, fund and enforce climate smart strategies and reduce greenhouse gas emissions at county and national levels. We must go beyond being morticians and auditing failed projects like the Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme and the Arror and Kamwarer dams to creating the conditions for these failures not to reoccur. Our failure will be a direct invitation to the next generation to declare us irresponsible and lead us.
- The writer is Amnesty International Executive Director. [email protected]