85% Of Kenya’s Land Is Dry, Need For Robust Climate Resilience Strategies

by Business Watch Team

Many countries around the world are battling the devastating impacts of climate change. Some of the impacts that have been witnessed in the recent past include heat waves, floods, hurricanes, and drought.

Kenya is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change as 85% of its land mass is mainly arid and semi-arid. Rainfall patterns across the country have also been affected by climate change with a noticeable increase in seasons of failed rains and excessive rainfall. As a result, rain-fed crop production is no longer tenable since weather patterns have changed, disrupting the traditionally known long and short rain seasons.

The erratic rainfall patterns have dealt a blow on the agricultural sector, which is Kenya’s economic mainstay as it contributes close to 50% of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product, both directly and indirectly, and employs 40% of Kenya’s workforce, according to the Central Bank of Kenya. As a case in point, research by the International Crisis Group shows that Kenyan herders lost at least 2.5 million head of cattle between 2020 and 2022, due to the prolonged dry spell that was said to be the worst in four decades, thus decimating incomes for households that are dependent on pastoralism.

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Excessive rainfall, on the other hand, has resulted in flooding which increases the transmission of vector-borne diseases and communicable diseases resulting in increased health challenges. In May, more than 4,500 people living along the Nyando River in Kisumu County were forced to evacuate after floods marooned their houses and farms. Besides the human cost, flooding also leads to the destruction of infrastructure like roads, pipelines, electricity transmission infrastructure, and water harvesting infrastructure leading to significant economic loss.

The coastal counties are also susceptible to flooding resulting from a rise in sea level. Kenya’s coastline is particularly susceptible as it is estimated that an area of 4 to 6 square kilometers is likely to be submerged with a rise of only 0.3 meters of sea water level. This grim outlook poses a major threat to Kenya’s tourism sector considering the importance of our coastline as a major tourism hub in the coastal region.

It is therefore critical that Kenya develops climate-resilient strategies to mitigate some of these impacts. First, there is a need for greater public awareness of climate change and the role that citizens can play in addressing climate change and building resilience. This can help spur a shift from the use of biomass such as charcoal and wood fuel which encourage deforestation to sources of clean cooking fuel such as liquid petroleum gas (LPG), ethanol, and solar.

The citizens can also help with afforestation and restoring natural water towers that have been devastated by rampant tree harvesting. The ongoing national drive to plant 15 billion trees by 2032 is a commendable effort and a direction Minet Kenya is already participating in.

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Some energy sources are particularly susceptible to climate change like hydro-electric power, where failed rains lead to diminished water reserves in dams and lower power generation. However, it is encouraging to note that Kenya has addressed this challenge by turning to renewable and less weather-dependent sources of energy such as geothermal and wind power. Today, 86% of Kenya’s electric energy is derived from clean and renewable energy sources led by geothermal energy. However, more can be done as Kenya has the potential to generate more wind and solar power. Exploiting these sources of green energy can help it build more resilience.

The design of our infrastructure should address possible challenges resulting from climate change-related events like floods, hurricanes, and storms. Critical infrastructure in the coastal cities like the port of Mombasa should be built to withstand these impacts given its strategic importance not only to Kenya but also the East African region.

Both the public and private sectors must come together to build water harvesting infrastructure like dams and water pans. Such infrastructure will help the population move from rain-fed crop production to irrigation ensuring sufficient crop and livestock production.

It is important to sensitize farmers and pastoral communities on the need to take up agricultural insurance coverage. The government also has a key role in ensuring farmer incentivization in a bid to ensure the country’s food security This is an important lifeline in the face of the prevailing erratic weather patterns. It is heartwarming that Kenya is piloting crop-specific microinsurance products across counties to help local communities understand the importance of taking cover for climate-related risks. According to the World Bank, more than 70,000 Kenyan farmers across 15 counties were enjoying affordable weather index insurance as of June 2022.

Through innovative and collaborative approaches, Kenya is already making strides in developing climate-smart agricultural practices, embracing green energy, and enhancing disaster preparedness. Kenya’s socioeconomic well-being hinges on its ability to build resilience towards this global challenge.

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