Climate change increases risks in slums

Open sewer in the slums
Copyright: Teun Voeten/Panos

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  • In Nairobi, 60 per cent of residents live in informal settlements
  • Climate change increases risks of droughts, floods and health problems
  • Experts say partnerships with officials, residents and donors could solve issues

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[NAIROBI] The impacts of climate change pose a serious challenge to human well-being, economies and livelihoods, particularly in informal settlements in Sub-Saharan Africa, a workshop has heard.
Informal settlements are the fastest growing segment in Africa’s rapid urbanisation, with more than 60 per cent of the Nairobi population living in informal settlements, said Griffin Songole, the director of the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company Ltd in Kenya.

“Residents of Nairobi’s informal settlements live in unsafe, overcrowded and often unsanitary housing, and lack access to basic services.”

Eric Odada, African Collaborative Centre for Earth System Science (ACCESS)

Songole spoke during the Climate Resilience in Nairobi’s Informal Settlements workshop organised in Kenya last month (10 December) by the Kenya-based non-governmental organisation Maji na Ufanisi (Water and Development) in partnership with the African Collaborative Centre for Earth System Science (ACCESS) and the University of Nairobi’s Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation (ICCA).
An informal settlement occurs when people create housing in an urban location without approval from officials, and has the potential to result in slums.
Most informal settlements are located next to rivers and floodplains, with very limited infrastructure to provide relief when they are hindered, so they are worst hit in case of floods, droughts and other climate-related disasters including disease outbreaks, Songole explains.
Eric Odada, director of ACCESS, says that climate change is a major cause of the extremes which are observed in water systems such as floods and droughts hazards.
“Climate change … threatens to reverse the gains made in social and economic infrastructure,” says Odada. “Residents of Nairobi’s informal settlements live in unsafe, overcrowded and often unsanitary housing, and lack access to basic services such as sanitation, water and electricity.”
Climate change increases the residents’ vulnerability, with acid rain corroding the already poor structures and contaminating the available water, thus causing serious human health implications, Odada adds.
Among the health issues are water-borne diseases such as dysentery, cholera and schistosomiasis, air-borne diseases and vector-borne diseases including Rift Valley fever and malaria. Other impacts of climate change sewer overflows, poor solid waste management, drowning, impassable roads, landslides, clogged drainages, electrocution and are insecurity — which mainly affects women and children, especially girls.
Shem Wandiga, the acting director ICCA, says that to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water, efforts to expand drinking water services must be urgently stepped up. For this to occur, governments must fast-track institutional reforms, boost funding, eliminate corruption and strengthen capacities in their water services sectors.
“Informal settlements residents should be educated and involved in maintaining the infrastructure (storm water draining channels) to achieve climate resilience,” notes Wandiga, adding that there is also a need for collaborations involving  governments, city authorities, civil society and donors could increase the pace of implementation, which so far is fragmented.

Chris Heymans, a senior water and sanitation specialist at the World Bank Group’s Water and Sanitation Program in Africa, observes: “We know that dealing with the water management issue inside city boundaries is not sufficient. While demand grows due to migration and expanding coverage, supply may be reduced due to droughts or changes in the watershed, which reduces water availability.”
According to Heymans, Nairobi’s needs for future water demand can partially be met by considering a range of options such as creating infrastructure to collect waste and groundwater, and aiding watershed protection, leakage management, storm water harvesting, creation of protective levees and water demand management.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.