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Kenya’s community-first climate approach lets locals pick projects

NAIROBI – When a water pan was built in a grazing reserve in northern Kenya in the 1980s, the central government hailed the project – which it had funded – as a vital solution to tackle water scarcity and ultimately improve the lives of local pastoralists.

But there was a problem. The pan – a small reservoir to collect and store rainwater – had been commissioned by officials in Nairobi without any input from local representatives or dialogue with affected communities in Isiolo county.

So rather than ease water woes and the impact of droughts, the new pan disrupted the traditional land use management system of the Borana tribe in the Yamicha area and led to conflict with herders from other ethnic groups, residents and activists said.

“The water pan caused encroachment by other communities, destroying the reserve,” which was part of an old grazing rotation system designed to ensure grass availability for local herders even in drought periods, said Abdi Adi, chairman of the Cherad Ward Plan Committee in Isiolo.

He emphasised that the Borana community was not consulted about the pan before it was built – which ended up increasing their drought risk rather than reducing it, as a result of a loss of grazing.

About a decade ago, the Borana shut down the water pan and replaced it with a borehole well that could be disabled, a move facilitated by the Adaptation Consortium, a government entity set up in 2010 to work with county governments to access climate finance.

As communities around the world race to try to cope with worsening climate change impacts – from droughts to floods – some adaptations put in place are creating as many problems as they solve, a challenge known as “maladaptation.”

In many cases, problematic adaptations are the result of too little community input, or ideas being imposed by outside consultants, analysts say.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year said that maladaptive projects can also waste a lot of cash, amid growing concerns over a shortfall in such funding.

In Kenya, problems like that with the water pan arose because community involvement in allocation of climate adaptation resources used to be nearly non-existent, with everything run by the central government, several experts said.

“The major flaw with this kind of thinking was that all regions of the country were treated uniformly,” said Victor Orindi, national coordinator of the Adaptation Consortium.

But things changed in 2010 when a pilot project in Isiolo saw local governments and communities involved in the planning process and distribution of resources, with county-specific policies created.

The water pan in Yamicha was shut down by the Borana as a direct result of the pilot.

Other counties followed suit and Nairobi is expanding the approach nationwide through a devolved climate finance mechanism known as the Financing Locally-Led Climate Action Programme (FLLoCA), developed with support from the World Bank.

The effort aims to reach all 47 counties in Kenya, identifying which climate issues and projects to prioritise and providing supplementary funding to help local governments and communities boost their resilience to climate change impacts, Orindi said.

“There is recognition for communities to organise themselves … (to) participate in the climate process in terms of identifying and prioritising where to invest the climate funds,” he added.

Locals lead the way

In Yamicha, the Borana have for hundreds of years practised a customary grazing system known as “dedha,” which has clear rules about how water resources and pasture can be used.

It has been hailed as an effective example of a traditional climate resilience approach, especially against droughts.

For example, grazing is permitted near settlements in the wet season, but livestock must be kept in designated reserves – away from communities – during droughts. This is to avoid overgrazing and ensure there is enough water to go around.

However, after the water pan was built, herders from other communities took advantage of the constantly available water source and moved their livestock into the reserves the Borana were keeping for use in the dry season, Adi said.

Since the pan was shut down and the borehole installed – it was preferred by the Borana because it could be shut down when not in use – the land has been in much better health, said Jacob Waqo, a programme officer for the Merti Integrated Development Programme, a development NGO in northern Kenya.

Another county to have benefittted from the shift in climate financing strategy is eastern Makueni, where an overflowing rock water catchment system caused deep gullies to form, creating concerns for people, crops and livestock when it rained.

Assisted by the Adaptation Consortium, the community in the Mbitini area decided to build two water tanks in 2017 that would collect rainwater from the rock catchment, boosting water supplies and reducing the risk of crops being washed away.

Lydia Muithya, deputy director of the Anglican Development Services Eastern, a faith-based development agency, said the consortium’s financing meant the project went ahead despite a lack of support from Mbitini’s political representative.

“This was a priority for us, and we went ahead with the project, regardless,” she said.

Economic concerns

The UN Development Programme criticised wealthier nations last month for failing to fulfill a pledge to deliver $100 billion a year in climate financing to the developing world.

Ahead of last year’s COP27 climate talks, a UN Environment Programme report said that in 2020, money from donor nations set aside to help poorer countries adapt to climate change was $29 billion – far below the $340 billion per year that could be needed by 2030.

A 2021 report led by Kenya’s Treasury said that $2.4 billion in public and private capital was invested in emissions reduction and climate adaptation activities in 2018, about half the amount needed to meet the country’s climate change targets.

About 79 percent of the funds were for emissions reduction measures, despite the fact the nation’s climate planning focuses on adaptation, the report noted, warning that this poses “an economic risk due to the cost of climate events such as drought and flooding.”

Counties in Kenya are encouraged by the central government to set aside one percent of their development budgets for climate change initiatives, and this amounted to $75 million nationwide in the 2018-19 financial year, according to the FLLoCA’s latest data.

As Kenya wrestles with climate change impacts – including its worst drought in 40 years – the expanding FLLoCA plans to eventually cover all 1, 450 wards in the country and support projected identified by communities with expertise and funding, said the programme’s finance and strategy manager Maurice Pedo.

“(The FLLoCA) plans to get the communities to identify climate change risks, map them, then prioritise projects that will address those risks,” Pedo said. 




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