Climate change due industrialisation and other anthropogenic activities coupled with increasing energy demands are major global challenges at the top of the international agenda. It is also a main concern for the Kenyan government.

Africa is set to be one of the hardest hit by a rapidly changing climate- and we are also some of the least prepared. Kenya, just like other sub-Saharan African countries faces the uncertainty and potential risks of climate change. Dianne McAlpine, Special Projects Coordinator for Greenpeace Africa, notes that, “Climate change is destroying Africa. In the harshest of ironies, the cradle of mankind could well become its grave.” Dependent upon rain fed farming, the continent is facing a future of rampant food insecurity in an ever hotter and drier continent, she adds.

Kenya’s geographic location makes it prone to cyclical droughts and floods. Global climate change is expected to make such types of cyclical climate-driven events increase in intensity and frequency. A recent study by the group Greenpeace Africa suggests that mean annual temperatures in Kenya will increase by 1.0°C-2.8°C by the 2060s and 1.3°C-4.5°C by the 2090s. Here, rain could increase by almost half, which is good news for farmers, but bad news for health bringing with it the risk of waterborne diseases.

The country’s fragile ecosystem will be put under intensive pressure arising from species migration due to habitat destruction and reduction. Already, almost 50% of the country’s key biodiversity warehouse is at risk due to reduced habitat and other anthropogenic pressures.

Kenya’s vulnerability to climate change is furthermore affected by relatively weak institutional capacity, low resource management capabilities, inadequate technology and information infrastructure as well as land degradation, which combined pose serious hurdles to effective climate change responses.

Therefore, if not proactively addressed, climate change is anticipated to adversely affect the country’s sustainable development efforts including its ability to achieve the objectives set out in the Government’s Vision 2030 development plan. The plan’s social pillar – Health, states that the country aims to provide an efficient integrated and high quality affordable health care to all citizens. It emphasizes that priority will be given to preventive care at community and household levels, through a decentralized national health-care system. *

Barack Obama recently joined the world’s leading health experts to support their claim that Climate Change may pose the biggest health risk of the 21st Century. Obama, not only announced that the USA is now taking “unprecedented action” to combat climate change, but he also noted that “no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a change in climate”. 

However, his plan is not just about preventing the longer term impacts of climate change. According to health experts across America, his plan to reduce pollution from coal-fired plants will actively prevent 3,600 premature deaths, lead to 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children, and prevent 300,000 missed work and school days.

Actions such as this should be imitated in Kenya, which recently reported the worst flooding across the country that led to loss of lives due to cholera and other water-borne diseases, destruction of property and several people left homeless. If we do not act now, we set ourselves on uncertain path.

Malaria has always existed in Kenya, however in the past, the higher altitudes of the highlands region limited highland malaria transmission to seasonal outbreaks, with considerable year-to-year variation. Without enhanced control measures, climate change is projected to increase cases malaria in many areas of Kenya. 

The WHO, in its report of a recent study in Kenya indicates that in areas where malaria already occurs, transmission intensity is expected to increase beside the length of the transmission season. It is also expected that malaria will spread into new locations, particularly the higher altitudes of the highlands, where its prevalence is not currently actively monitored or forecasted. Communities living at altitudes above 1,100 meters are more vulnerable to malaria epidemics due to lack of immunity, lack of preparedness, climate variability and other factors. 

Approximately 13 to 20 million Kenyans are at risk of malaria, with the percentage at risk potentially increasing as climate change facilitates the movement of malaria transmission up the highlands (WHO, 2015)

Studies on the impacts of climate change on health in Kenya have also reported increases in acute respiratory infections for arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs); emergence and re-emergence of Rift Valley fever; leishmaniasis and malnutrition. Floods, occasional outbreaks of waterborne diseases e.g. cholera, dysentery and typhoid have also been reported in lowland areas.

The recent outbreaks are particularly worrying because people have not built up immunity to the malaria parasite, according to K. M. Bhatt, an infectious and tropical disease specialist at the University of Nairobi. According to her, "Epidemics are now more deadly, particularly for humans who do not have immunity and are taken by surprise when they're bitten." "[Patients] can get cerebral complications and lung and kidney failures if they do not get immediate treatment,” Walter Otieno, from Kenya Medical Research Institute and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates.

"The second curse for highlanders who get malaria is their inability to access good medical facilities that would diagnose disease early enough and treat it."

This reiterates a growing awareness from the international medical establishment as to the dire impacts that Climate Change is already having. In fact, it is the central theme of a recent series of publications commissioned by the leading medical research journal, the Lancet. 

According to Nick Watts, the head of the commission, “Climate change has the potential to undermine the last 50 years of advancements in public health.”

Nick calls “the great localizer of the impacts of Climate Change,” because the impacts that will be faced “aren’t just in low income countries, they are in middle and high income countries as well”.  And these impacts are “especially alarming”.

Not only does Climate Change have the potential to affect people at the forefront of floods and heat waves as we have seen recently, but he also believes that if drastic action is not taken, Climate change impacts have the potential to affect "every aspect of our lives".

As Obama notes, "Climate change is not a problem for another generation. Not anymore." Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General also notes that, "We are the first generation to end poverty and the last generation that can act to end the effects of climate change".