How cities can face climate change

Kimende landslide

An excavator moves soil during the search and rescue operations for people who are feared trapped at the scene of a landslide following heavy rains within Matathia area of Kimende Escarpment, in Kiambu County, Kenya on May 15, 2024.

Photo credit: Reuters

The recent onslaught of rains and floods have left people reeling. Lives have been lost, homes swept away, and most cities dismantled, making us bear the weight of lasting scars among our communities. Yet, amid all these, lies a beacon of hope to reset and chart a new course.

As the eminent physicist Albert Einstein once remarked, "In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity." These words ring truer than ever in the wake of natural disasters like floods. They serve as a poignant reminder that even in the face of adversity and climate change challenges, there is potential for transformation and for renewal growth.

The torrents of water have laid bare the desires of nature itself, demanding space to showcase its wonders. It is incumbent upon us, therefore, to heed this call and to reimagine our cities and rural areas with a steadfast commitment to sustainability.

In this era of climate change, we are sailing unknown waters, confronted with problems that put our basic existence to the test. And no longer can we afford to prioritise short-term gains over long-term resilience. Climate change has rendered such complacency a luxury we can ill afford. Floods, in particular, present us with a unique opportunity to not only rebuild what has been lost but to do so with greater foresight, resilience, and sustainability.

And our cities which once thought impervious to the forces of nature, now stand as testaments to the folly of unchecked development. They have become battlegrounds in the war against climate change, bearing the brunt of its wrath in the form of floods, storms, and heatwaves.

Investing in resilient infrastructure, green spaces, and disaster management systems is no longer a choice but a necessity. It is the foundation upon which we must build our future cities. And the cities that can withstand the challenges of today while preparing for the uncertainties of tomorrow can seize the opportunity to rebuild and fortify our urban landscapes against the rising tide of environmental uncertainty.

This requires a paradigm shift in urban planning and a departure from the outdated models towards a more holistic and participatory approach. In this new era of urban planning, the needs, and rights of the most vulnerable must take precedence. Too often, it is the marginalised and disenfranchised who bear the brunt of environmental disasters. We cannot afford to perpetuate this cycle of inequity.

Innovation and creativity must also play a central role in our efforts to build resilient cities. We must harness the power of technology and science to develop smart and sustainable solutions that can mitigate the impacts of climate change. From green roofs and permeable pavements to advanced flood warning systems and resilient building materials, the possibilities are endless.

The most critical step we can take is to revise our building codes to reflect the realities of a changing climate. Too often, our current codes are woefully inadequate, failing to account for the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

By adopting new codes that are both cost-effective and inclusive, we can ensure that our buildings are not just safe and affordable but also resilient to the challenges of a warming world.

But our efforts cannot stop at the city limits. We must also address the challenges of rural urbanisation, which has long been a driver of environmental degradation and social inequality. Too often, rural areas suffer from a lack of infrastructure and services, forcing many people to migrate to overcrowded and unsafe cities in search of opportunities.

By investing in rural development and creating opportunities for livelihoods, education, health, and social inclusion, we could reduce the pressure on urban areas and create more balanced and sustainable growth. This requires not only infrastructure investment but also the establishment of an effective address system that can enable better access to public and private services.

An address system may seem like a small thing, but its impact can be profound. It can improve access to various essential services. Moreover, it can foster a sense of identity and belonging among rural residents, empowering them to claim their rightful place in the world.

Seizing the opportunity presented by natural disasters like floods requires vision, courage, and collaboration. This requires a concerted effort on the part of governments, communities, businesses, and individuals alike.

Only by working together can we hope to overcome the challenges of climate change.

The writer is Kenya’s Ambassador to Belgium, Mission to the European Union, Organisation of African Caribbean and Pacific States and World Customs Organisation. The article is written at a personal level.

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