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Coping with climate change in Kenya

  • By Jamie Mbogo
  • August 22, 2018
  • 0 Comment

Climate change is perhaps the most considerable environmental challenge of our time globally. It affects ecosystems, water and food resources and health among others. The adverse effects on the Kenyan landscape have been witnessed with increased rainfall and droughts. Floods and droughts have caused damage to property and loss of life. 

For instance, the flooding in Naivasha, Kenya after the Karati River burst its banks caused 172 fatalities, displaced 283,290 people and left 84 people with severe injuries. Government data also shows that in the Tana River alone, 150,000 people have been displaced and 16 killed due to flooding. Furthermore, flooding is related to food scarcity fueled by decreased yields. The drought has also lead to decreased power and water supply to cities in Kenya, including Nairobi. 

One of the areas that has negatively been impacted by climate change is agriculture, which supports 75% of Kenya’s population and contributes to 21% of the country’s GDP. Given its high reliance on rainfall, it is adversely impacted by drought. For instance, prolonged drought in 2016/2017 yielded low agricultural productivity that resulted in food prices increasing by a third. 

Kenya is heavily reliant on hydro-electric power- a sustainable source of renewable energy. It accounts for 30% of all the electricity produced nationwide. The Sondo Miriu Hydro-Electric Power Project has been immensely affected by drought. The power station which is supposed to generate about 80MW of electricity is currently producing under 10MW of electricity. The production has lowered by over 87.5%. 

Tourism is also a highly sensitive industry since climate change affects a wide range of environmental resources. Some of them are wildlife diversity and water levels. Firstly, change of rainfall patterns causes grass levels to either increase or decrease causing a migration shift of wildlife. High levels of water in the Mara River during the annual migration in 2011 took the lives of about 15,000 animals rather than the usual 1,000 or so. The increase in temperatures is also causing the melting of glaciers and snow caps on Mount Kenya- a major tourist attraction that astounds visitors with the presence of snow right at the equator.

In efforts to mitigate the aforementioned problems, Kenyans are putting measures in place to ensure a sustainable environment for future generations. 

The youthful Samuel Rigu, the founder of Safi Organics, incubated at Kenya Climate Innovation Center, turns chaff into an organic conditioner called Safi Sarvi. Mr. Rigu buys rice husks, maize combs and other agricultural waste from a local network of rice processors for around $30 per metric ton. He then slowly burns it and adds a mixture of minced limestone and other vegetal ingredients to create a sort of charcoal dust, which can be used as fertilizer. He sells the fertilizer back to local farmers for $15 per 50-kg, getting a net profit of up to $200 for each processed ton. Farmers who use it have seen their farm yields increase up to 30 percent and their income by up to 50 percent. Most important, for every acre of land that uses their product, 1.7 tons of CO2equivalent are sequestered from the atmosphere.

The move to clean energy is also seen in Garissa County, where the largest mega solar project in East and Central Africa- worth $135.7 million- has been set up. The multimillion dollar project is estimated to generate 55 megawatts of electricity and power 625,000 homes. Since solar panels only need to be replaced once every 20 years, they are very sustainable.

Michael Otieno started Takawiri Craft Enterprises to produce attractive paper products from water hyacinth. It is environmentally friendly since no trees are being cut down, no chemicals are being used in the manufacturing and the water used is continuously recycled. The production of the paper is slowly curbing the negative impacts caused by water hyacinth in Lake Victoria.

Additionally, 2,650 metric tons of waste is generated in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city. 20% of this waste is comprised of plastic. Continental Renewable Energy Company is using plastic waste to manufacture composite building hardware. This cleans the environment by reducing heaps of garbage littering open fields’ pollution which in hand avoids the emission of CO2. 

Kenya is developing crucial climate change policies and legislation, such as the Climate Change Policy Frame Work, Climate Change Bill, and the National Climate Change Finance Policy and Budget Codes. But this is not sufficient. The government has to incentivize investments in climate action to increase resilience to climate change.

To help curb these devastating effects caused by drought on agriculture, the government has allocated $103 million to address the issue. Pastoralists have also been provided with livestock insurance and vaccines to protect their cattle from known livestock diseases. The Ministry of Water has also started a water trucking initiative where they are providing water to 15 counties. 

Moreover, the country’s geothermal capacity currently stands at 17,000MW, but out of that only 800MW are being produced. Despite geothermal power being extremely capital intensive, Mombasa city depends entirely on it. There is currently only one geothermal plant in Olkaria area, adjacent to Hell’s Gate National Park in Naivasha, Kenya. The supply of geothermal power is set to increase in the near future, with the government heavily investing in the Menengai Geothermal Power Project that is about to commence. The mega power project is expected to produce 35MW of power. Since it generates a low amount of greenhouse gases, it reduces the impacts of global warming.

Confronting the problems before they escalate has been a wise strategy by the Kenyan government and the private sector. Despite the implications caused by extensive climate change, if the policies put in place are effectively implemented, it will be a stepping stone towards a sustainable future.

By Jamie Mbogo