“Kenya is facing many environmental challenges that include deforestation, soil erosion, land degradation, desertification, loss of biodiversity, water scarcity and pollution…” UNDP Kenya, 2017
If this does not worry you, observe the country now. Sadly, corruption in our politics means that we systematically neglect the resources of the country and the long-term common good of our fellow citizens. There are all too few signs that our political system is taking seriously enough to the warnings of UNDP and other observers.
With the assumption that political leaders in Kenya want to make Kenya a better place for all, then sustainability is key to ensure the natural resources in the country will last us for generations to come. Now, sustainability has many definitions – but at heart, it expresses the notion that we need to bring economic, social and environmental concerns and values together in all decision making; however, the environment is a vital aspect that is often subordinated to economic factors.
In the case of environmental sustainability, climate change is a major challenge that Kenya faces now and will continue to confront. With this in mind, I am constantly battling to understand how the country has not stored resources such as water, medicine and food for those suffering from drought and famine. In fact, in 2017, Kenya suffered its worst drought in 60 years, affecting 37% of the population in parts of North East Kenya (Telegraph, 2017).
Such crises raise the question: do we ever think hard about Kenya’s future? By this, I mean the long-term security of our healthcare, water, food, energy. I agree that cities and towns be the focus for our development; however, what good is the frantic rush to build skyscrapers when water is running out and dams collapsing, as happened in Solai, Nakuru.
I know it is not easy – it is hard to think about our long-range future when there are so many immediate pressures and demand attention. It will take time, advice, guidance, support, cooperation, collaboration and engagement from all parties (internally and externally) to have a breakthrough in our thinking and action for environmental sustainability. Additionally, we need commitment in reviewing and implementing strategies/frameworks to cope with complex environmental situations. If we look at the issue this way, when we preserve trees, take care of our land and reduce pollution, it will result in greater security – more rainfall/water, more food production, fewer health risks such as malnutrition, healthier people, more production, economic benefit and so on. It is a chain effect. In short, we need to educate ourselves on sustainability, what it can do for our country, a need to engage and ensure that together we can make Kenya not just survive but also think 40 to 50 years in the future. All us the citizens of Kenya can contribute to sustainability and we need skills, experience and contributions from citizens in all from every region.
None of this is easy, but we know we can achieve major advances – as we record with the Millennium Development Goals illustrations. Kenya now faces the challenge of living up to the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals.
The late Professor Wangari Maathai once said, “we need to promote development that does not destroy our environment”.
Next time, I will take a closer look at the SDGs and aim to spark deeper discussion on environmental sustainability and lessons to learn from other nations.
Andrew Maina is a Postgraduate Researcher at the Centre for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Surrey. He is currently researching on sustainability and sustainable development, more specifically on sustainable healthcare systems. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.