Kenya: Changing Climate Realities - Flooding in New York City and the Looming Risks of El Nino in Kenya

1 October 2023

Today, Global Warming is increasingly rising at unprecedented scale with countries around the world, both in the Global South and the Global North continue to confront the unfolding realities of the devastating impacts of climate change.

While the extreme weather events such as devastating floods, deadly earthquakes, and severe droughts continue to show no signs of relenting soon, already, a state of emergency has been declared in New York City, USA, following destructive widespread flooding that wrecked havoc yesterday, including claiming more than 5 lives.

Climate change is raising the frequency and intensity of extreme climate catastrophe around the world, the recent deadly flooding in Libya points the urgent need for Kenya to take more mitigating measures against the effects of climate change, setting in the backdrop of Kenya Meteorological Department warning against the looming Elnino threats.

Even as unpleasant memories of the catastrophic flooding in Solai Dam still seared in our minds today, of which Kenya lost hundreds of lives in the blink of an eye when the deadly floods from Solai Dam swept away dozen million livelihoods, there is glaring evidence that millions of local communities are still vulnerable and exposed to runaway waves of climate-related disasters such as floods.

While the catastrophic damage of the Solai Dam flooding could have been mitigated if local communities in the area have been placed on high alert and timeline of the rainfall, in 2023, we cannot afford more devastating disruption of lives and livelihoods if we invest in Early Warning Systems as a key instrument for planning and responding real-time to climate-related risks.

Nairobi county Governor Johnson Sakaja recently released a comprehensive framework on measures put in place on how his administration will respond to El Niño related risks in Nairobi. Governor Johnson Sakaja reiterated that his administration has identified areas believed to be floods-hotspots, when he flagged off 50 trucks, 6 fire engines, 5 ambulances, 10 excavators and 2 fully fledged mobile workshops for emergencies as mitigation measures to help in combating the El Niño related risks.

Investing in flood-resilient infrastructure, tailored with proper urban planning are key fundamental measures to safeguard our cities, taking into consideration that adverse impacts of climate change affects everyone, everywhere, there is significant need for both the county and national government to protect communities most at risk.

Kenya Meteorological Department should make a priority the need to provide periodic national real-time weather forecasts update, including making available the meteorological-data information for Kenyans to know where and how the climate is changing, and where these changes have the greatest devastating impact.

Tracking the effects of climate change around the world is imperative to avert more climate disasters, Kenya must harness the importance of climate change data because it's a powerful tool that will help government enhance more strategic measures for climate adaptation and mitigation, hence protecting more lives.

Mapping of natural disasters generated by climate change, especially using previous meteorological data to illustrate how environmental hazards have changed over time, is very essential now because it leverage the effectiveness of improving climate change data which is critical for government and policymakers to make key decisions on how protect communities most at risk.

National government, through Kenya Meteorological Department should harness and invest more on early-warning systems for floods, droughts, thunderstorms, through intensification of records and reliability of data on weather forecasts. The available and accessible of climate-related information in all levels will catalyst disaster risks preparedness and act as safety nets for El Niño mitigation.

Although devastating flooding in Libya, New York City, India, Bangladesh, South Africa, and China, might seem like a long distance extreme weather events, more emphasis should be on how Kenya as a country is well prepared to respond to climate related emergencies, including making extreme El Niño related flooding a more frequent reality going to the future.

Integration of Indigenous community knowledge and scientific data to predict climate change is fundamentally critical given the very nature of unprecedented and unpredictable realities of a changing climate. Gavin Schmidt, the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said the regions that are currently being hit hardest by climate change are not the ones that emits the largest amount of greenhouse gases, but increasingly paying ultimate price from climate catastrophe.

The author is a Climate Change Expert, Ilchamus Community Youth Leader and Climate Ambassador.

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