Update from Nairobi: No doubt here that it’s real


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No one in Nairobi—where we just released pre-press version of the World Development Report—needs to be reminded about the effects of climate change. Four consecutive rains have failed, and on 80 percent of the country’s land area, water resources are at a tenth of their normal levels.

 Parched earth in Kenya
    Photo © Ann Phillips

Everyone is feeling it.

Farmers see dying crops. The harvest is 28 percent of normal amounts. The Minister of Environment reported at the WDR launch yesterday that ten million Kenyans were going hungry because of the drought. Herders see their cattle dying or have to sell them for low prices. Some are shipping their cattle to areas that still have grass only to see them die of cold at the higher altitudes.

Power—for the 18 percent of the population that is connected—is rationed because more than half of the country’s supply is from hydropower. Water trucks block streets across the capital to make up for the failing public supplies.

Tourism authorities worry because desperate herders are invading the national parks and threatening the livestock on which so much of the country’s foreign exchange earnings are based. Newspapers report that over 200,000 cattle have been moved from Kenya into Ethiopia, the largest movement in a decade.

Everyone is afraid of how this stress, coming on top of the unemployment associated with the global financial crisis, will play out socially. And no one in Kenya today can doubt that climate change is a development issue or that development has to be done differently because of climate change.

Our report takes a tone of cautious optimism. At yesterday’s press launch some venerable speakers—including Prof Richard Odingo, former vice chair of the IPCC—questioned that optimism.

 Prof Wangari Maathai addresses participants at the World Development Report 2010 launch in Nairobi
    Photo © Sylvia Photos/Nairobi

Yet the audience was also packed with young people searching for ideas and ways they could help combat climate change themselves. “What can we as Kenyans do ourselves” was the first question they asked. Many, especially the representatives of youth groups, had ideas about turning resources such as abundant sunlight and remaining forested areas, into opportunities to tackle climate change and improve livelihoods.

The work of the closing speaker, Nobel laureate Prof Wangari Maathai—helping communities protect forests and improve their livelihoods—reminds us that although the problems are all too real, development-focused solutions are also possible.


Julia Bucknall

Director for Environment and Natural Resources

Join the Conversation

September 22, 2009

It would be really nice for the evidence linking the current drought in Kenya and global climate change to be documented. What is the key link? Is it climate change? is it a historic cycle of weather patterns? is it deforestation in Kenya, or burning fossil fuels in China? The assertion that climate change is at the root of the current lack of rain in Kenya should be unpicked and the evidence supporting this better understood, to help policy makers and ourselves move forward.


September 23, 2009

Thank you for posting this comment. You raise a very good point. We cannot say that this drought is caused by climate change. Nevertheless I think there are three reasons to discuss this drought in the context of climate change. First, all predictions indicate that droughts such as this will increase in severity and frequency. We see in Kenya today how the drought impacts all areas of society from economic growth to traditional customs. Second, the impacts of this drought are much worse because Kenya is not adapted to droughts of this magnitude. More regulation of water supply would reduce the need to ration power and drinking water in the cities. Better natural resource management would protect water resources, reduce soil erosion, limit overgrazing (and, incidentally, store carbon) and so on. Kenya and other poor countries urgently need to invest in adaptation mechanisms. Third, there is a growing awareness in Kenya of climate change. That was not the case ten years ago. It makes a difference to the politics of climate change within the country. We have recently learned new ways to communicate so that people feel empowered to turn concern into understanding and understanding into action.

Julia Bucknall