Polarising Calamities: The Evolving Properties of Land Use Land Cover and Climate Change in Kenya

  • 2018/10/12     Dresden, Germany

    Image: iStock/TT

    By Paxia Ksatryo, Communications and Advocacy

    From one extreme to the other, the repercussions from natural disasters are a setback for societies. The costs inflicted to economies through, for instance, having to restore infrastructure and infertile soil are detrimental, leaving countries in need of international aid. According to a recent report by UNISDR, the human costs of disasters overwhelmingly falls on low and lower-middle income countries.

    Coupled with an economic setback, vulnerability to natural disasters are also costly in time as projects and plans have to be postponed due to these unforeseen events, proving risk-awareness and preparedness for natural disasters to be all the more crucial.

    October 13 marks the annual International Day of Disaster Reduction (IDDR). This year, the focus is on one of the seven targets of the Sendai Framework – the first major voluntary agreement of the post-2015 development agenda. Otherwise known as Target C (“Reducing direct disaster economic loss in relation to global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030”), it complements efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 (Climate action) given the interconnected nature of climate change and natural disasters.

    With a growing population whose energy demands are also growing in tandem, it is vital to understand the impact posed onto the environment. By monitoring the evolving properties of resources such as land use and land cover (LULC), an enhanced image of a region-specific geographical landscape and an improved understanding of its utility is made possible. The changing physical properties of land due to both anthropological and climatic conditions have resulted in adverse impacts on the environment, increasing the difficulties in regulating the ecosystem.

    The result? Unpredictable hazards ranging from droughts to floods. As part of the Dresden Nexus Conference (2015) Working Paper series, Mwaniki W. Mercy (2017) monitors various central highlands in Kenya in order to understand the effects of climate change on LULCs in her working paper Assessment of the Effects of Climate Change on Land Use and Land Cover using Remote Sensing”.

    Through the use of the Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) data set, she records the changes in LULCs in her sample areas between 1995–2010. Arguing that the changes in weather trends have noticeably affected the accessibility and utility of land, Mercy highlights the sporadic pattern in rainfall and temperatures to explain environmental degradation and divergent weather trends.

    The El Niño rains were often followed by La Niña droughts which have incentivised farmers to convert the reducing green cover to agricultural lands. This reduction in forest cover was damaged further by overgrazing due to the increase in grassland, while the exposure of bare rock covers grew simultaneously affecting rising temperatures.

    La Niña droughts expose bare rocks which lead to rising temperatures (Image: Shutterstock/Sasa Prudkov).

    Mercy, in accordance with Wandago (2002), argues that in aggregate, governments become more concerned about the costs of environmental degradation and poor resource management due to natural disasters. This awareness for more sustainable environmental policies became evident with Kenya’s resolve for afforestation and their increased efforts to prevent the occupation of forest cover to reduce anthropological damage. In line with the Nexus Approach, Mercy proves the importance in understanding how the evolution of LULCs result in natural calamities, highlighting the need for more sound environmental awareness and action this International Day of Disaster Reduction.

    Sustainable Development Goal 13

    The United Nations adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015 as an intergovernmental agreement to strive towards. Codified in Resolution A/RES/70/1, SDG13 aims to combat climate change and its impacts.

    To date, greenhouse gas emissions are 50% higher than they were in 1990, and natural disasters have risen by 400% since 1970. Together with the Sendai Framework, the UN and its Member States address the socioeconomic repercussions caused by climate change, aiming for more sustainable resource management and environmental policies. Improving these aspects will lead to a strengthened resilience against natural disasters, curbing the encroachment of forest covers. SDG13 is also the focus area for UN Day 2018 to learn more about climate action and engage in key debates relevant to local sustainability in Dresden, register for our UN Spotlight Talk taking place on 24 October.

    “If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us.”

    – António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, 10 September 2018



    Mercy, Mwaniki W. 2017. Assessment of the Effects of Climate Change on Land Use and Land Cover Using Remote Sensing: A Case Study from Kenya. DNC Working Paper. United Nations University Institute for Integrated Management of Material Fluxes and of Resources (UNU-FLORES). (Available for free download)

    United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). 2018. Economic Losses, Poverty & Disasters (1998-2017). (Available for free download)

    Wandago, B. 2002. Reality and perspectives Kenya Country paper (Tropical secondary forest management in Africa (No. J0628E54). Nairobi, Kenya: Forest Department.