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KENYA and CLIMATE CHANGEJanis TheronKenya is vulnerable to climate change. Rated as the world's 48th largest country, Kenya stretches nearly 600 000 square km and is home to some 48 million people. Located on the east African coast, it boasts diverse ecosystems and habitats - including iconic mountains, enormous forests, game reserves packed with wildlife, fertile farming regions and drier semi-arid to desert regions. Kenya may be a lower to middle-income economy but still enjoys the largest market in this part of Africa. The country's main sectors are agriculture (tea, coffee, fresh flowers, and livestock) and wildlife safaris into renowned game reserves. Kenya is thus highly dependent on good soils, constant water supplies and the conservation of her beautiful and valuable natural resources and ecosystems. Climate change, however, threatens Kenya daily. According to the country's National Climate Change Action Plan 2018 – 2022, present forecasts estimate temperatures will rise to 2.5 degrees C between now and 2050. This will cause more extreme floods and droughts more often, already evident in current weather patterns. The overflowing Lake Victoria and Lake Turkana are flooding into nearby communities, putting women and children at risk.
In addition, sea levels are rising due to the melting of glaciers and ice sheets and the warming of the ocean and atmosphere. The devastation of drier land areas intensifies as more people impact the land and natural resources.
There is hope, however. Kenya's National Climate Change Action Plan is backed by the World Bank, and if the country wants to be a newly industrialised country by 2030, it must learn to adapt. These forestry strategies are spot on, but Kenya must also invest in clean energy production, geothermal energy development, and sturdier agricultural and drought management strategies that work with climate change. The focus must be on a cleaner future and the conservation of biodiversity. To this end, Conservation International (CI) is working with the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust and the Big Life Foundation to restore severely degraded grassland and savannah woodland in the Chyulu Hills region. This mind-blowing landscape conservation project aims to fight the causes and effects of climate change in Kenya.
The Chyulu Hills project is a REDD+ project (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) that aims to protect and preserve this vital forest habitat. REDD+ projects offer affected communities other ways of surviving financially, so they don't need to use the forests for their livelihoods. The cutting and burning of forests contribute to climate change, causing carbon emissions. Trees store carbon, and when they are cut or burned, they release it back into the atmosphere. The project rewards the farmers with financial incentives for NOT cutting trees. Some 140 000 indigenous Kenyans live in Chyulu Hills, which is highlighted as an efficient carbon sink thanks to its rich biodiversity and natural resources. A carbon sink is "anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases, for example, plants, the ocean and soil. In contrast, a carbon source is anything that releases more carbon into the atmosphere than it absorbs – for example, the burning of fossil fuels or volcanic eruptions."
Chyulu lies between the famous national parks of Tsavo and Amboseli and is an oasis of freshwater springs and rivers created by the forest and which the people rely on for survival.
By saving these habitats, CI aims to prevent about 18 million tons of carbon dioxide from being discharged into the atmosphere over the next 30 years. And it will mean the preservation of wildlife, ecosystems, livestock, and communities dependent on this water supply, innately connected to preserving the forests and grasslands. Meanwhile, the community's escalating farming needs and reliance on charcoal burning continue to degrade the forest. The charcoal industry is booming in Africa at a time when climate change is a real threat to nature and people. This is because it is easy: trees make charcoal, and people can cut trees down and burn them. Charcoal is also much cheaper and easier to find than other fuel sources like kerosene, paraffin, gas or electricity. CI hopes to change this. "Nature is life: Every breath you take, every drop you drink, every bite you eat — it all comes from nature. And we have a plan to keep it safe: stabilising our climate by protecting and restoring nature, doubling ocean protection, and expanding planet positive economies."