Debate around climate change dominates the dry season but fades away when it rains. For instance, it was a hot topic when Kenya was experiencing severe drought a few months ago, before the heavy rains that are wreaking havoc in various parts of the country began.
The discussions prompted Deputy President William Ruto, in February, to issue a 90-day moratorium on timber harvesting in public and community forests, ordering Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko to form a task force on the wanton destruction of forests.
The Green Belt Movement’s Marion Kamau-led 10-member team has since handed in its report, recommending an overhaul of the Kenya Forest Service board and management.
Predictably, the climate change debate has since waned.
Climate change simply refers to alteration of weather patterns that lead to extreme events such as a rise in temperatures, excessive rainfall, storms, floods and droughts.
In less than 10 months, Kenya has felt the full brunt of climate change. The floods that have claimed more than 100 lives in two months are a result of that.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that climate change will cause some 250,000 additional deaths a year — from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress — between 2030 and 2050 as it provides a conducive environment for the spread of malaria and dengue fever, among other vector-borne diseases.
The ‘Economic Survey 2018’ report indicates that malaria has remained one of the top-two killer diseases in Kenya with counties categorised by the Ministry of Health as ‘low-risk areas’, such as Nairobi and parts of central Kenya, witnessing increased cases.
Baringo and Marsabit — where more than 70 people reportedly died of malaria last October alone — were among counties that suffered the most last year despite being outside the high-risk category. The ministry has also zoned counties near Lake Victoria, western Kenya and the Coast as high-risk, endemic zones.
Changing temperatures are making malaria to spread to areas where residents only used to read about it in books.
Malaria Futures for Africa (MalaFA) 2018, an opinion research study commissioned by Norvartis Social Business in 14 sub-Saharan African countries, including Kenya, expresses fears that climate change might frustrate efforts to kick malaria out of the continent by 2030.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global temperatures have been steadily rising over the past 20 years, with 2016 and 2017 among the warmest. It says even if the world stops greenhouse gas emissions today, which is unlikely, the effects of global warming will be felt for a century since the gases emitted in the atmosphere are massive.
That means the effects of climate change will live with us for decades and what we need is to develop adaptive capacity to minimise vulnerability and increase resilience. This calls for proper planning and feasible and sustainable strategies, not reactionary approaches motivated by political expediency.
Integration of climate change policy responses and actions in all 21 ministries of the national government and the 47 counties is vital.
We need effective policies that will enable Kenyans to voluntarily plant trees in their farms and land outside the glare of cameras. We need policies and actions that will ensure Kenyans are cushioned against extreme events such as floods, droughts and even storms instead of waiting for loss of lives and properties to act.
Effective policies will ensure that Kenyans, instead, exploit and reap from opportunities presented by climate change.
Mr Onyango is a reporter with Taifa Leo and Daily Nation and a master’s degree student at the University of Nairobi. [email protected]