Ideas & Debate

Mind green spaces in economic revival following Covid-19

BDPark

Summary

  • A green recovery also means a reduction in future pandemics, as well as bold climate action in the fight against the climate crisis.
  • The recent eight-point post-Covid-19 economic stimulus programme launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta saw the environment listed and Sh540 million allocated towards greening Kenya.
  • This calls for inclusion and concerted efforts from all stakeholders in ensuring that the protection of green spaces remains one of the main priorities towards a green recovery.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the cities hardest, but it is in these same cities where we can either win or lose the fight for a green recovery.

A green recovery also means a reduction in future pandemics, as well as bold climate action in the fight against the climate crisis.

The recent eight-point post-Covid-19 economic stimulus programme launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta saw the environment listed and Sh540 million allocated towards greening Kenya.

This calls for inclusion and concerted efforts from all stakeholders in ensuring that the protection of green spaces remains one of the main priorities towards a green recovery.

Our overall objective as a coalition of civic actors who have joined together to advocate for the protection of green spaces across urban centres in Kenya, is to enhance the appreciation and protection of environment.

Naturally, we look to our cities and green spaces for solutions towards a sustainable recovery post this pandemic. The recent lockdowns and cessation of movements have also shown us all that clean air is possible if we are more responsible.

However, as nations move to reopen the economies, air pollution levels and emissions are rising again. The World Economic Forum confirmed air pollution to be the ‘deadliest form of pollution’.

Urban green spaces contribute to the overall decline in the amount of air pollution. We need to see opportunities in the post-Covid-19 recovery.

Opportunities for more green spaces, to keep the air clear and even embrace clean and sustainable solutions that will strengthen our collapsing ecosystems.

We can build back better by incorporating green spaces into our recovery plans and also push for regulatory frameworks and policies that will support the inclusion of such spaces in government delivery platforms.

Covid-19 has made it viscerally clear how integral green spaces are to our quality of life. The World Health Organisation recommends that everyone needs to have a green space of at least 0.5 hectares within 300 metres of their house.

Many people, in particular those in the lowest income bracket, lack access to inclusive public green spaces. According to the United Nations, half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, increasing pressure on our limited green spaces.

Nairobi for instance is one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa and it is estimated that its population will reach 5 million by 2025. This population growth will increase the demand for green spaces in the city.

With several challenges ranging from youth unemployment, and poverty, people are always looking for ways to relieve stress, exercise, relax, or support their mental health and well-being.

That is why green spaces such as Uhuru Park, the largest peoples’ park in Nairobi, are always almost full especially on weekends. As we build back better towards a green recovery, we must prioritise efforts that will help maintain Nairobi’s status as the green city under the sun.

Despite all the benefits ranging from, increased air quality, improved quality of life, enhanced health, and well-being, our green spaces are under threat. Some of the existing and emerging threats include encroachment, degradation, lack of clear ownership, and a gap on policies that strike a balance between development and green spaces protection.

It is now becoming increasingly common to see trees being cleared along our highways and parks to pave way for road construction or other forms of development. A recent example is Waiyaki Way where trees are being cleared in preparation for the construction of the Nairobi expressway, despite having been challenged in court. The scene is disheartening.

The right to public green spaces remains an intrinsic part of the right to life and therefore development should never mean losing our green spaces. We have already experienced negative impacts resulting from the loss of our urban green spaces in Nairobi city including frequent floods, poor air quality, rising temperatures, heatwaves, as well as degradation in the limited green spaces that are accessible.

At a time when we are faced with both the pandemic and the climate crisis, we must recognise that green spaces will not only help us adapt to these challenges but also make Kenya resilient. Our cities need more trees and more green spaces. In the words of the late Professor Wangari Maathai, “The generation that destroys the environment is not the generation that pays the price. That is the problem.” Future generations should not have to bear the burden of the mismanagement of previous generations.

With the mounting pressure on our green spaces, there is still a lack of urgency at our country’s leadership level. While we applaud the ongoing efforts by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to reclaim degraded and grabbed public green spaces, we believe that more exemplary leadership can still be demonstrated by also putting an end to any form of development that is ongoing at the expense of our green spaces.