Address climate-related losses for sustainability

Stranded passengers board speed boats at Gamba in Tana River County, December 8, 2023. [Maarufu Mohamed, Standard].

On Thursday night, I dropped off three people at a Nairobi station to travel upcountry from 10pm. By midnight, my people had not boarded.

The delay was largely blamed on El Niño rains. One attendant told me ‘climate change’ and the December rush had delayed buses’ departures, sometimes up to midnight all week. My people ended up leaving well past midnight.

On further engagement, the man used ‘heavy rains’, ‘El Niño’, ‘climate change’, and ‘floods’ interchangeably. More impressive, however, was his ability to link flooding to infrastructure and property destruction, and people’s health, as he motioned stranded passengers exposed to the cold at the station. He also spoke of the hours wasted, then delved deeper into the deaths.

I spoke of some El Niño positives, including that ASAL areas that suffered a prolonged drought, with up to 4.4 million Kenyans risking starvation, now have water, pasture, and more food. This was about Kenyan National Drought Management Authority’s assertion that at least 20 of 23 counties worst hit by drought had recovered.

However, what climate change gives you with one hand, it takes with the other. Some of the drought-prone counties, like Isiolo, Samburu, Marsabit, Wajir, Garissa and Mandera experience flooding, sometimes fatal. Countrywide, nearly 170 people have died. Government Spokesman Isaac Mwaura says another 529,120 people were displaced from 105,824 Kenyan households.

The impact of El Niño rains on displacement and poverty is a stark reminder of the complex challenges posed by climate change, which exacerbate existing vulnerabilities. According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, between 2008 and 2020, Kenya experienced over 800,000 new displacements due to disasters, many of which were linked to climate change. Such losses push populations deeper into poverty.

According to the World Bank, up to 36 per cent of Kenyans live below the national poverty line. These climate related losses cause socio-economic challenges and heighten health risks, including exposure to waterborne diseases and inadequate access to medical care. Children’s education is disrupted. Displacement disrupts social structures and communities, tearing apart the fabric of support networks they rely on during crises.

The nexus between climate change and displacement amplifies poverty and social inequalities. Displaced populations lack access to basic amenities like clean water, sanitation, and healthcare. In Turkana and Marsabit, prolonged droughts heightened food insecurity. Families were forced to migrate, seeking better prospects in densely populated urban areas, leading to a scarcity of resources, jobs, and services.

This necessitates a swift, consistent, and comprehensive approach that intertwines environmental, social, and economic strategies. Kenya must prioritise resilience-building initiatives, including investing in sustainable agricultural practices, enhancing water management systems, and promoting renewable energy sources.

Furthermore, policies that support the creation of alternative livelihoods and provide social safety nets for displaced populations are crucial. Disaster preparedness and response mechanisms must improve. It took Kenya time to confirm El Niño. Government and aid organisations must collaborate to establish early warning systems, build resilient infrastructure, and create evacuation plans for vulnerable communities.

Empowering local communities to actively participate in decision-making processes is key. Their knowledge of local terrain, weather patterns, and traditional coping mechanisms contribute to more effective and culturally sensitive interventions.

-The writer advocates for climate justice.  [email protected]