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CLIMATE CHANGE

Proper land use key in preventing disasters

When the natural systems are still within their capacity, society can still bounce back from a calamity.

In Summary

• The heavy rains and the related damages are not about to end based on the weather forecast from the Kenya Meteorological Department.

•  Rainfall is expected to continue in Lake Victoria Basin, the Rift Valley, Highlands East of the Rift Valley (including Nairobi area), the Northwest and the Coast.

Residents remove a cow that drowned in a river during the flooding in West Pokot on April 19
DISASTER: Residents remove a cow that drowned in a river during the flooding in West Pokot on April 19
Image: MARYANN CHAI

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to sweep through the world, in Kenya, another natural disaster is raring its ugly head in the form of floods, landslides, and mudslides.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost their loved ones and their property and houses destroyed.

Clearly, the heavy rains and the related damages are not about to end based on the weather forecast from the Kenya Meteorological Department. Rainfall is expected to continue in Lake Victoria Basin, the Rift Valley, Highlands East of the Rift Valley (including Nairobi area), the Northwest and the Coast.

Naturally, extreme climate events such as floods and droughts can be mitigated through the adaption of sustainable development. Sustainable development entails meeting the human development goals while simultaneously sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide resources and ecosystem services based upon which the economy and society depend on.

When the natural systems are still within their capacity, society can still bounce back from a calamity. This can be demonstrated by how communities were able to recover from Uhuru floods of 1963-64, 1968 floods, and El Niño in 1997-98, just but to mention a few.

However, due to various factors such as impacts of climate change; the intensity and severity of the floods are overshooting measures put in place to mitigate them. This can be affirmed by the devastating effects being recorded in Budalang’i area and the Nyando River floodplain despite the heavy investments in dykes in the past.

The flooding, landslides, and mudslides as well as overflowing of dams could become a new normal going forward. Clearly, the water systems are increasingly becoming vulnerable to climate change that has been exacerbated by a myriad of physical features and social characteristics.

For instance, land in Kenya is under a set of pressures to cater to an increasingly hungry population which demands not only more food, but also more resource-intense food, and meet the intensifying competition for settlement, infrastructure development and urbanisation.

The need for better land use management cannot be overstated. The myriad of natural disasters experienced can be traced to degradation of land resources, including human encroachment on marginal and fragile ecosystems such as slopes, wetlands and escarpments.

These worrying phenomena bring to fore the urgent need for an in-depth reflection on how human beings and nature relates.

Despite these new realities, Kenyans are yet to be fully awakened to the need for environmental consciousness. This is evident in the ongoing environmental degradation, unplanned urbanisation, solid waste mismanagement, encroachment on riparian lands and wetlands.

A holistic approach is urgently required if land resources are to continue meeting the needs of the increasing population in the future. Proper land management start by every citizen respecting land zonation and embracing sustainable use of the same land.

It is high time we realise as a people that economic development and environmental issues are inseparable. The need for harmonised laws and policies governing the broader sectors cannot be over emphasised ,especially if we need to manage and address extreme events that are interlinked with environmental degradation.

Citizen awareness must be among the top priorities by both the national and county governments. The citizenry should be provided with updated environmental information through various media outlets or even public forums for better decision making. The concept of sustainable living should be inculcated into every facet of our lives

It is also important for the government to enforce existing regulations as well promoting sustainable approaches in natural resource management and utilisation. The food production systems could highly benefit if every household in the country embraced agroforestry.

While settlement and urbanisation could be transformed through use of green technologies or adoption of green development pathways. The scourge of climate change can be addressed through nature-based solutions. We believe sustainable development can indeed cure the recurring natural disasters in Kenya.

 

 John Chumo   is the Committee Secretary, National Environmental Complaints Committee 

George Tarus is the Chair, Scientific Committee, Forestry Society of Kenya