Written by Caroline Kibii
How Residents of Mombasa are Coping with Climate Risks
Mombasa, one of the coastal towns in Kenya, is widely known for its warm to hot weather, leaving people from winter countries craving it. For years, we have witnessed an influx of local and international tourists; some travel thousands of miles to enjoy the Mombasa heat.
As this happens, the temperatures are soaring high; the humidity is high, posting a high heat index. You may ask yourself why? The residents of Mombasa, primarily those I interacted with during formal and informal focus discussions on climate change- their understanding, perception and how they cope- alluded that climate change is apparent; they are facing the consequences.
While the residents indicated that Mombasa has always been hot, they worry the heat has become extreme in the recent past, coupled with the high humidity making it uncomfortable to carry out some of their basic daily chores.
Digital weather observation sites such as AccuWeather confirmed the residents’ responses. On one day at 09.54 am, the observed/recorded temperature was 29°C while the realfeel was 34°C. The next day at 5.04 pm, the recorded temperature was 31°C and the realfeel was 35°C. Let me clarify that a few days’ temperatures do not indicate climate change but observations over a long period, often several years.
High humidity, for instance, may contribute to feelings of low energy and lethargy, and hyperthermia, which may cause heat stroke, heat exhaustion, dehydration, fatigue, muscle cramps, or migraines.
Other perceived climate-related occurrences in Mombasa are the erratic and unpredictable rains. A case in point was the short rains often received in October-December. In the last two years, including this year (2022), the rains have been minimal, unpredictable and unsustainable.
The pertinent subject was how the Mombasa residents cope with all these changes evident in their community.
One of the coping mechanisms utilised by most people is the use of ceiling and movable fans. Others have installed air conditioners. Those without the financial capacity to purchase fans or install air conditioners leave their windows open to let in fresh air.
Another coping mechanism is sleeping on bare floors-it applies mainly to those who have no fans or want to save on the cost of electricity. The respondents argued that the floors are colder. This is supported by science and relates to insulation, temperature and airflow. The downside to sleeping naked on a bare floor is the inhalation of dust particles that could lead to respiratory diseases and the possibility of catching a cold, among others.
It was also noted that people living outside the town centre, those with spaces outside their houses, grow bananas next to the house wall, especially by the window. As the wind blows the banana leaves, fresh air is let into the house, causing a cooling effect. This is indigenous knowledge at play. The problem arises during rainy periods as banana plants harbour mosquitos that cause discomfort, leave several bites on the skin and cause malaria.
In addition, drinking lots of water was cited as the most crucial urgent mechanism to prevent dehydration and headaches or migraines.
What I have presented above are individual and household-level coping mechanisms. However, long-term, robust and dynamic systemic strategies and solutions are needed.
Nature-based solutions are a robust solution and strategy that will give the city and its environs a natural beauty and provide vast ecological functions. For instance, planting more trees, grasses and flowers will break winds and dust storms, cool temperatures and provide shade for people to relax and enjoy a fresh breeze, for example, when indoor temperatures are unbearable.
Notably, a few trees and flowers have been planted along the streets of Mombasa, although some have dried out. Therefore, more need to be planted and the remaining few taken care of; watered, pruned and weeded.
It is also vital for Mombasa County government to get rid of the artificial grass carpet planted on the roundabout and some parts of the major streets in the city centre. It has no significant ecological value. We are talking about maintaining the natural beauty and addressing climate effects. Grasses, trees and flowers will absorb carbon from the atmosphere, one of the leading greenhouse gases causing increased air temperatures; the artificial grass carpet will do none of those.
Installing water fountains with fresh, clean drinking water at strategic points within the city centre is a good practice that caters to those without the economic capability to purchase bottled water.
Information is an essential part of improving adaptive capacity. Therefore, there is a need for more education on climate change, how different it is from weather, its impacts and ways to cushion oneself.
A joint effort is necessary to strengthen the residents’ ability to adapt and build resilience to climate change. The community, the private sector, development experts and the government must come together with a common agenda to develop practical climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives. A joint effort also means all stakeholders, from the community to the government and higher, sit around the same table to make climate decisions.
More importantly, climate finances are integral in building resilience to climate change which the county government can spearhead through dedicated climate funds within the county. The community, the people who are directly impacted by climate change and suffer the most, should be at the centre of decision-making processes. With this, no one is left behind and we advance the transformative promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals.
This article is based on one-on-one interaction with residents of Mombasa.