To avert drought, we must go beyond reactive interventions

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Climate change exacerbates the chronic challenges of food insecurity, poverty and environmental degradation.

Climate change exacerbates the chronic challenges of food insecurity, poverty and environmental degradation, and to fight it we need an integrated approach that views the problem and socio-economic development as mutually dependent.

The Paris Climate Agreement, signed in December 2015, Agenda 2030, and the Sustainable Development Goals all support an integrated approach premised on how the environment can be leverage for sustainable development.

As the saying goes, a nation’s wealth is measured by its values and not its vaults. With regards to food and water security, Kenya’s values are enshrined in Article 43 (1) (c) & (d) of its Constitution, and actualising these shared values through an integrated approach provides African countries with a roadmap for the future.

Poverty and low economic development constrict the ability of countries and communities to respond to humanitarian crises. But Africa holds significant comparative advantage in clean energy and sustainable agriculture to speed socio-economic transformation.

Given that humanitarian crises like droughts are reinforced by climate change, solutions will need to be anchored within a broader strategy of combating weather patterns and ecosystems degradation.


To this end, at the strategic level, African countries, including Kenya, should leverage on the global response to climate change to mobilise resources — technical, technological, financial, as well as political — towards simultaneously solving drought crises alongside combating climate change.

This ensures humanitarian efforts have the locus standi to leverage on provisions of the Paris Climate Change Agreement for implementation. To practically achieve this, the continental initiative on domesticating the Paris Agreement — the UN Environments Ecosystems-Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (Ebafosa) — provides an inclusive framework to mobilise humanitarian sector stakeholders to participate in a country-driven responses to climate change.

At the operational level, a number of actions can be prioritised in the immediate, medium and long term.

Short term: There is a need to pool the resources of environment and humanitarian stakeholders for joint implementation of short-term environment-based humanitarian interventions — like drilling boreholes, for example, and rehabilitating dams — to ensure that emergency operations adequately inform long-term environmental policies as part of a preventive strategy to future crises driven by environmental degradation and climate change. The country could also prioritise early emergency responses to minimise costs associated with crises. The cost of early responses is relatively low — at $10 per family — compared to the $50 per family at the height of crisis. Governments should therefore set aside contingency funds for rapid responses at the onset of crises.

Medium to long term: Countries need to formulate policies that prioritise the application of Ecosystems Based Adaptation techniques (EBA) towards the restoration of previously degraded ecosystems to avert future crises. And successful examples from across the continent abound. EBA approaches of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) have restored 2,700 hectares of barren mountain terrain in Ethiopia. Reported benefits include increased food security and reduced poverty through increased income from forest products and livestock fodder; improved water infiltration, which has improved the ground water levels; reduced erosion and increased soil fertility in the region. In Malawi, 28,000 trees planted to restore 15 hectares of previously degraded lands along river banks have resulted in restoration of perennial flow on a key rivers.

WATER A CRUCIAL ECOSYSTEM GOOD

Water is a crucial ecosystem good. With decreasing supply exacerbated by climate change, coupled with increased demand, water conservation policies should be prioritised. For instance, a rain water harvesting policy could adapt to such shortages and foster savings. Tested in Seychelles, rain water harvesting in schools is not only increasing water supply stability but resulting in savings of up to $250 in water bills. Water reclamation examples for a large city like Nairobi can also be drawn from Namibia. The capital Windhoek, which is surrounded by the Namib and Kalahari deserts, faced low recharge and high evaporation, coupled with a five per cent annual population increase. Through enabling policy on water recycling and adoption of relevant technologies, the city was able to stabilise supply by exploring direct water reuse. Nairobi can adopt these.

Poverty and low economic development constrict the ability of countries and communities to respond to humanitarian crises. But Africa holds significant comparative advantage in clean energy and sustainable agriculture to speed socio-economic transformation. With targeted policy and investments, the linkage of sustainable agriculture to clean-energy-based value addition can create as many as 17 million jobs and catalyse an agro-sector projected to be worth $1 trillion in less than 15 years, reducing poverty two to four times more effectively than any other sector.

 Dr Munang is a climate change and development policy expert. He tweets as @RichardMunang. The views expressed here are his and do not necessarily represent those of institutions with which he is affiliated. Email: [email protected]

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