To fight climate change, do more than planting trees

Thursday, May 23rd, 2024 06:30 | By
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The recent floods have exposed the rot in the Kenyan government. It begins with poor infrastructure that exacerbated the impacts of flooding in urban areas. Drainage systems have failed to keep up with rapid urbanisation.

On top of that, rural-urban migration has led to the mushrooming of informal settlements with poor infrastructure and drainage systems. As more concrete covers the earth, there are fewer places to absorb the water, and it runs off, overwhelming drains and rivers. The development of settlements on riparian land further compounds the issue. Much has been said about this, but let’s shed light on the callous manner in which the government has dealt with informal dwellers amid the floods.

We have seen the discrimination, unfair treatment, and disproportionate effects felt only by those in informal settlements as opposed to the elite. An example is the forceful evictions of residents in Mathare by the government because it is a flood-prone area. This has exposed the clear classism and elitism that runs through the government’s veins.

Moreover, there has been evident lack of support and inadequate response to citizens, especially those in marginalised and low-income communities, as pointed out by Human Rights Watch and the Mathare Social Justice Centre.

In this regard, what ever happened to the El Nino flooding preparedness and response funds?

The floods also reflected the climate change crisis that is here to stay, yet the president and his advisers seem ill-prepared for it. The cosmetic gesture of creating a tree planting public holiday will not suffice.

We need solutions that align with the Paris Agreement objectives, such as cutting greenhouse gas emissions and moving away fro fossil fuels and relying more on clean energy. It calls for public education and awareness of climate change and the hazards of building on riparian land.

Also needed are long-term climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.The catastrophes unleashed by the floods could have been avoided if the government had taken heed of the El Nino warnings issued by the Meteorological Department last year. These measures needed to have been promptly put in place, but alas! Once again, I ask, where did the funding go?

The deep-seated greed that underlies government needs to dissipate. Now is not the time to be thinking only about oneself and the fattening of pockets. There are numerous Kenyans who are displaced and urgent humanitarian aqid is required. Kenyans are crying out for help and there is a need to relocate them and aid them in rebuilding what was lost.

As schools reopen, alternative support needs to be provided to those who sought refuge in schools for shelter. Support also needs to be provided to students who are unable to return to school due to the destruction of schools and infrastructure. It is important for them not to be left behind academically, as this will widen the gap between the haves and have-nots in the future.

More measures need to be taken. The government should tackle the climate change crisis, rather than just talking because it wants international praise, support, and alignment with the West. No. We have already seen how ruthless and vengeful Mother Nature can be.

I call on people in government to look beyond their political aspirations and the 2027 elections. As the host of the Africa Climate Summit in 2023, the government needs to ponder what more can be done to minimise the effects of climate change. One thing we have learned from this calamity is that if we do not change willingly, nature will grab us by our collar and force us to do so.

— The writer is a lawyer

working at ICJ Kenya

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