OPINION: Coastal cities are exposed without mangroves
Two things happened on October 31, 2019, it was World Cities Day and the three-day mangrove conference ended in Lamu County – home to around 60% of the total mangrove forests in Kenya.
Over 100 scientists met on October 29th-31st 2019 to discuss the conservation of mangrove forests for the benefit of nature and people.
The conference further advocated for their inclusion in Kenya’s Nationally Determined Contributions as per the Paris Agreement.
Coastal cities are growing but our bio-diversity is not. Lamu Port City development is gaining momentum, but there is a likelihood mangrove will get depleted, yet they provide resilience for the coastal city by reducing flooding impact.
They are also habitats to diverse wildlife and are key in improving livelihoods for coastal communities.
The latest data show that more than one half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, and virtually all countries of the world are becoming increasingly urbanized.
If our children and the future generations are to enjoy and benefit from our cities, we urgently need to change course, and the dangerously unbalanced relationship with nature.
This year’s World Cities Day theme ‘Changing the world: innovations and a better life for future generations” resonates with us because Kenya is a nature-based economy.
The growth of cities may cause biodiversity to decline by fragmenting or destroying natural habitats which we rely on.
The rising human population is also driving the expansion of urban areas and increasing the demand for natural resources. Climate change largely impacts people living in urban areas with coastal cities more affected due to rising sea levels.
Cities are a key contributor to climate change, as urban activities are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Transportation and waste remain the major contributors to carbon emissions and are interestingly the biggest challenges facing cities in Kenya.
If we lose mangroves, which ‘breathe in’ or store 50 times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by surface area compared to tropical forests, the impact on our health, livelihoods, and economy will be enormous.
What can coastal cities do?
The Paris Agreement of 12th December 2015, which Kenya is a signatory, aims at limiting global warming to at least 1.5 degrees. This calls for a coordinated approach by cities to tackle the impacts of climate change.
Some interventions are already in place, but we need to intensify efforts if we are to conserve and reverse the loss of urban coastal ecosystems.
City decision-makers should encourage renewable energy use, urban biodiversity conservation, sustainable waste management, reduced emissions from industries and urban mobility by strengthening governance structures, mobilizing adequate resources and policy formulation for these initiatives.
Nathan Mutunga is a Spatial Planning Officer at World Wide Fund for Nature-Kenya (WWF-Kenya)