Navigating flood risks with effective adaptation and mitigation strategies

Mathare River

A flooded Mathare River as it passes through Mathare Slums Gitathuru area on April 27, 2024.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

In recent times, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events have escalated, posing significant challenges across the globe.

In many regions, relentless rains have led to catastrophic flooding, disrupting lives and livelihoods. This indiscriminate nature’s fury always hit vulnerable communities hardest—particularly the urban poor and low-income groups who lack the resources to withstand or recover from these disasters.

Women, children, the elderly, and the disabled are disproportionately affected, facing greater difficulties in responding to and recovering from such calamities.

After the floodwaters recede, these communities face yet another challenge: the onset of the dry season. Areas now submerged under floods soon become dry, parched lands under the harsh sun.

A vicious cycle that not only signifies a shift in climate but also lays bare the damage left behind by the floods—ruined crops, lost livestock, and damaged agricultural infrastructure. However, it’s possible to mitigate these impacts through effective adaptation strategies and proper allocation of climate finance.

A crucial step in this process is the enhancement of early warning systems. Strengthening these systems can drastically reduce the impact of extreme weather by allowing timely preparations and evacuations, thereby safeguarding lives and property. The menace that the Maai Mahiu community is struggling to come to terms with is a sad reality, yet a sharp pointer to how early warning systems could save the day.

Additionally, investing in water management infrastructure, such as dams and reservoirs, is essential.

These facilities not only help control floods during rainy seasons but also maintain water supplies during droughts. The High Grand Falls Dam project, for example, is an excellent idea that has stalled for over a decade. Had it progressed, it might have alleviated the recurring floods affecting the Tana River communities.

Infrastructure resilience is another critical area requiring attention.

The recent flooding on the Nairobi Expressway, a structure less than two years old, collapsing of newly constructed apartment buildings among others underscores the need to ensure that new infrastructures can withstand such events. Overwhelmed drainage systems during these times reveal the urgent need for robust, climate-resilient building practices.

The cornerstone of all these efforts is funding. The Global Landscape of Climate Finance 2023 report by the Climate Policy Initiative reveals that a substantial portion of tracked climate finance—84 percent—is raised and spent domestically in most regions.

However, for sub-Saharan Africa, a significant amount—92 percent—of climate finance flows from international sources. Notably, this only represents a fraction of the global climate finance that cross borders, emphasising the need for increased financial inflows to the region.

Through these measures, Kenya can better navigate the complexities of climate-induced disasters and secure a more sustainable and resilient future for all its citizens.

Most of the global climate finance in 2021/2022 was through market-rate debt at 61 percent, which, while helpful, can exacerbate the already substantial debt burdens of developing countries like Kenya. It is imperative, therefore, that the government and other stakeholders explore alternative financing mechanisms that do not increase debt.

These could include leveraging public funds and concessional finance from multilateral development finance institutions (DFIs) and bilateral climate finance sources.

Creating blended finance facilities could also play a vital role in de-risking investments for private actors, encouraging them to invest in climate-related projects. This approach is essential for mobilizing the much-needed domestic funding necessary for substantial climate action.

Lastly, Kenya's potential as a carbon sink should be strategically utilised. The country's diverse ecosystems, such as forests, grasslands, and wetlands, offer significant opportunities for carbon sequestration.

With the carbon markets policy developed late last year and the regulations now nearing completion, tapping into carbon finance could provide critical support for building resilience for the country and local communities.

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