Climate Change or a Change in Climate




Over the past three weeks, it would almost be “legal” to tell someone bon voyage as you part ways in the evening! Why? Flooding – caused by torrential rains. Nairobi, Mombasa and Narok have made news but the more peripheral regions have not been spared either as some have suffered mudslides and  to some extent flood related disasters. Well, it would be great to interrogate the issues in detail, but here’s my take on the matter.

When I first visited Nairobi many years ago and became acquainted with the city, I remember encountering several swamps in Kileleshwa, Karen, Nairobi West, Upper Hill, Madaraka, Loresho, Ngong, you name it! The green-leafy suburbs was not a name just for the sake of it! It was green and leafy.

Fast forward to 2015, the concrete jungle is being intricately fitted with cement and brick for good measure. Every inch of the land is measured for its worth as real estate rather than for the ecosystem functions that it performs, among them flood regulation! Our architects give a great after-thought to Nature-Design, asymmetrically assigning more effort to energy conservation including lighting and heating. Solar on the rooftop and grand window spaces for maximum lighting is misconstrued for eco-design.

Don’t get me wrong here, prudent use of energy has its role in environmental sustainability, but nature design by far engulfs a holistic sustainability approach that includes food provision, flood amelioration, cultural and recreational services, as essential ecosystem functions.

If Design was to consider these, then we would for one prefer to open our window and enjoy the sunlight, fresh air and amazing view from our apartment, houses, workspaces or coffee shops or we would probably take the opportunity to walk out, take a hoe and enjoy tending the kitchen garden behind the house, sit on a park bench and have our snack lunch, or enjoy the absolute pleasure of interacting with a squirrel, a bird, or a perhaps a waterbuck grazing by the reedbed. All thanks to nature conservation within our spaces.

However, what we have ended up with is locked doors for our children to ensure that the dangers of the outdoors remain unknown to them. For example broken glass, or some polluted element that could turn a Business-As-Usual day to Business-Unusual day! Shut windows grilled with grizzly iron or glazed with heavy blinds to keep out the eyes of nosy neighbors, whose window by the way is two metres away. Constantly lit bulbs, not in the name of ambience but occasioned by the large shadows cast by adjacent skyscrapers, perpetually keeping the room in darkness and all you ever experience of wild-life is the stray cat that is forever sneaking into your kitchen to grab a bite off the leftovers, and the pestering rats that continually spatter their tiny feet on your ceiling in the still of the night!

Silently, nature asserts itself when in one night of heavy rains, it looses the memory of its route. The swamps and reedbeds that once use to slow it’s pace is a house, an office or a parking lot. Places where water once went through are no longer “valid” pathways, ground seepage is no longer available since our driveways and exquisitely tart with bamburi cement product and therefore only discharges the water to other lower lying quarters. The streams are rife with with paperbags, plastic bottles and sediment so that stream flow is halved. The endpoint? You who are lowly and meek (literally) standing in a pool of water half-way through your house or having your car float for a change. Not as good as a rest this one!

Generally speaking, we experience one heavy downpour once in four years, in Kenya. The third and fourth year of this cycle tend to be drier with less than average precipitation. So, where we should place our effort during the in-between years is in building some personal and institutional resilience, and integrating nature designs, into our architectural tapestry. Land use planning should constantly consider nature designs, a concept that will put us ahead of time when it comes to Climate Change Adaptation. For now, we can contend with the change of climate by moving to higher ground.

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