Disaster in waiting at the coast?

According to the National Policy for Disaster Management in Kenya (2009), more than 70 percent of natural disasters in Kenya are related to extreme climate events, which are also key causal factors for some emergencies that lead to disasters. The National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) notes that climate change will lead to more droughts and floods, as well as the spread of malaria, all of which are disasters for Kenya. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency, intensity and magnitude of extreme weather events, with impacts in terms of lives lost and livelihoods disrupted falling most heavily on the poor.

Coastal Kenya best exemplifies this situation with a mix of arid and semi arid areas and coastal urban areas. For instance, Mombasa is a growing and vulnerable urban center with low adaptive capacity resulting from limited financial resources, technology, institutional capacity, low levels of economic development and high poverty levels. As a secondary city, it is experiencing increased urbanization with poor people living in slums and peripheral settlements more likely to experience shock climate disasters and the very slow incremental impacts of long-term trends in increasing severity of weather.

Other coastal towns such as Kilifi, Mtwapa, Malindi, Ukunda and, Lamu are experiencing the same challenges i.e. the inadequate/lack of three types of physical infrastructure, namely drainage, sewerage, and garbage collection; Varying degrees of insecurity of tenure rights to housing and land as well as inadequate settlement planning (including uneven land plots, lack of pluvial drains, curbs and sidewalks causing flooding in solidly built properties, inadequate roads) and; social economic vulnerabilities – the people of these urban areas heavily depend on tourism, fisheries and natural resource based economic activities that are vulnerable to climate change disasters and long term impacts.

Coastal Kenya’s rural areas are also mainly ASAL areas experiencing drought at increasing rates resulting in serious development challenges. For instance, Ganze constituency is the poorest in the country while large parts of Kwale County, Kilifi County and Lamu County are known to experience acute food shortages that result in deaths. An increased risk of drought and persistent vulnerability of the poor is likely to have serious impacts on the people centred development. Increased risk of drought will also affect Kenya’s wildlife and hence the tourist industry, as well as reduce water supply and hydroelectric power.

 

Opportunities and Threats

 

It is worth noting that effective emergency and disaster response and preparedness is important for achieving the goals of Vision 2030 and the millennium development goals. The 2009  national policy for disaster risk management indicates that the country’s disaster profile is dominated  by droughts, fires, floods, terrorism, technological accidents, diseases and epidemics that disrupt people’s livelihoods, destroy the infrastructure divert planned used of resources, interrupt economic activities and generally retard development.

 

Communities in Kenya are predisposed to disasters by a combination of factors such as poverty aridity, settlement in areas prone to perennial flooding or areas with poor housing, infrastructure and services such as the informal urban settlements. The policy notes that the hazards are exacerbated by climate change and stresses the central role of climate change in any sustainable planned and integrated strategy for disaster management.

 

To understand the vulnerability of both urban and rural communities in coastal Kenya to climate change disasters, one has to take note of the low literacy, academic achievement and the general information marginalization in the areas. For instance, the coast’s counties are poor performers in national exams taking the bottom slots quite consistently. The 2009 housing and population census showed that only 7% in Kilifi County have secondary education. These two facts should give a good picture of difficulties in access to information as just one of the many factors that limit the resilience capacity of communities in coastal Kenya. This coupled with the many other aforementioned factors has already led to disasters and the level of risk is expected to increase.

 

The government of Kenya, working in collaboration with other stakeholders, has identified, among other key strategies, strengthening the capacity of national and county institutions responsible for climate change coordination and improving knowledge management and awareness creation as some of the most important ways of confronting challenges and risks associated with climate change. The action plan also proposes that specific adaptation and mitigation actions should also be promoted. Some of these actions call for bettering the community’s capacities to adopt new technologies for farming and other livelihoods, knowledge management, natural resource use and management among many others.

 

It is therefore important for identifying key capacity issues and elements, agree on vehicles and tools that can be employed to address them as well as means for resource mobilization and developing and implementing specific strategies to better community-level management practice, preparedness and, resilience towards climate change related risks and disasters.

 

What can we do?

 Given the above, it is important to create opportunities for dialoguing and idea exchange for the communities living in coastal Kenya. This should give a clear and unified understanding on the extent and nature of problems posed by possible and existing climate change disasters. This needs to be as inclusive as possible, followed by progressive and participatory monitoring of outcomes as well as follow-up activities.

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