News and Insights

Kenya’s Battle with Urbanization and Deforestation

September 7, 2023

The National Resources Forests Assessment (NFRA) Report 2021 reveals that Kenya’s tree cover is 12.13%, exceeding the 10% threshold. Out of its 47 counties, 37 have also surpassed this minimum. President William Ruto’s Tree Restoration Program aims to see the nation plant over 15 billion trees by 2032, a stride towards countering climate change and its detrimental impacts. Yet, certain national-level decisions on environmental matters risk failing to make this ecological progress.

For instance, the decision to lift the logging ban last year might inadvertently spur deforestation. While tree planting is commendable, establishing a mature forest ecosystem takes time, potentially impeding our green ambitions. The previous administration imposed the logging ban in 2018, responding to a worrying loss of 5,000 hectares of tree cover annually by 2010. This deforestation has impacted food production, biodiversity, human health, and water catchment areas. Many citizens disapproved of the ban’s removal, but the government defended it, emphasizing its boon to the carpentry sector and, by extension, economic growth.

Rapid urbanization further exacerbates climate change. Balancing population growth with sustainable real estate development is challenging. Large tracts of green land have been sacrificed, often replaced with non-environmentally-friendly constructions. Haphazard settlements have harmed Kenya’s water tower ecosystems, like the Mau Forest Complex, where unregulated grazing and tree felling for agriculture prevail. These vital ecosystems, including Mau Forest, Cherangany Hills, Mount Kenya, Mount Elgon, and Aberdare Ranges, birth most of Kenya’s rivers, providing 75% of its water resources.

The current food crisis alerts Kenyans that climate change isn’t just a G20 concern. Neglecting our environment has cascading repercussions on global climate health. Nyandarua County, a prime agricultural region in Kenya, received food aid after experiencing a severe drought in 2022. Food scarcity has led to health crises; in arid areas, deaths from starvation are rising, and childhood malnutrition cases, like Marasmus and Kwashiorkor, are becoming alarmingly common. In Kibera, near Nairobi, residents watch industries use the Nairobi River as a dumping ground. The subsequent pollution and river depletion have triggered recurrent Cholera outbreaks across the country.

World Health Organization (WHO) data indicates that 19,000 Kenyans perish annually from industrial air pollution. The United Nations Environmental Program attributes 70% of Nairobi County’s air pollution to poorly combusted fuels and greenhouse gas emissions. With Nairobi’s lack of green spaces, there needs to be more air purification. A study by Science Direct suggests urban areas should offer ample parks within a 3 km accessibility radius for residents. Nairobi falls short, leaving many without access to recreational spaces and rising obesity rates.

In the quest to foster sustainable development, Kenya needs to look beyond the conventional methods of taxation, such as fuel duties. Incorporating carbon pricing emerges as a potent strategy in this context. By placing a cost on carbon emissions, industries and individuals would be incentivized to adopt cleaner and more environmentally friendly practices. This helps regulate and reduce emissions and generates a revenue stream. The funds accrued can be strategically redirected into green tech investments, further bolstering the nation’s capacity to combat climate change and diminish its carbon footprint.

Furthermore, the recent push towards adopting electric buses in the nation’s transport system represents a significant step forward. This commendable green initiative has the potential to reduce the vehicular emissions typical of traditional gasoline-powered buses drastically. Such innovations in the transport sector can serve as a model for other African nations and act as a testament to the possibilities of integrating sustainable technology into everyday life.

However, Kenya must amplify its efforts in other energy domains to cement its position as a beacon of climate sustainability in the region. A relentless drive to decrease the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels while simultaneously boosting investments and infrastructure in renewable energy sources is crucial. By harnessing the power of the sun, wind, and water, Kenya can ensure a consistent, cleaner energy supply and underscore its commitment to a sustainable future. Embracing these approaches holistically will pave the way for Kenya to emerge as a climate sustainability leader on the global stage.

While the increasing awareness of climate change has brought eco-anxiety, with concerted mitigation efforts, we can still envision a sustainable Kenya. Instead of revoking logging bans, we could promote the cultivation of fast-growing trees to fulfil national timber needs. We ensure sustainable livelihoods by championing eco-friendly job alternatives for those reliant on forestry. The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) must rigorously enforce real estate environmental standards.

Kenya stands at a critical juncture in its environmental journey. With its impressive tree cover statistics and ambitious reforestation goals, the nation paints a hopeful picture for a green future. However, juxtaposed against this are the challenges brought about by deforestation, rapid urbanisation, and industrial pollution. It underscores the idea that achieving sustainability is not merely planting trees or introducing eco-friendly transport. It requires a holistic, multi-faceted approach encompassing policy changes, infrastructure development, public awareness, and economic considerations. The journey towards a sustainable Kenya is complex and multifarious. Still, with the combined efforts of its citizens, government, and international partners, the vision of a green, prosperous Kenya can become a reality. Today’s choices will define the country’s environmental legacy and its role as a trailblazer in the global fight against climate change.