THE BLOG

Climate-Proofing Kenya: From Trees to Technology

02/06/2014 11:28 BST | Updated 30/07/2014 10:59 BST

The countries that will bear the brunt of climate change aren't waiting for others to get their acts together and cut emissions.

We don't have that luxury because we're already living with the effects.

Around 70% of Kenya, the country where I was born and work, is made up of arid or semi-arid lands which are highly prone to drought and, conversely, flooding. Much of our economy is dependent on farming and tourism, meaning it was no surprise when roughly 3.7 million people were affected by the drought that hit the northern and eastern parts of the country in 2011.

One of the main issues we grappled with was how to make sure farmers and other people living in remote parts of the country didn't starve or lose their livelihoods. The government and other relief agencies knew that it wasn't necessarily helpful to ship vast amounts of food or livestock around the country, as lots of it might go to waste or distort local markets. Instead, they successfully pioneered mobile-money transfers which partially subsidised farmers, keeping them and others afloat during the drought. This builds on Kenya's strong track record of using mobile technology to deliver essential services that help our economic and social development.

Since then the government, relief agencies and the private sector have been focusing on resilience planning, which means looking at new and creative ways of adapting to and offsetting the effects of climate change.

By helping Kenyans adjust to and live with new weather patterns, we can save lives by reducing the risk of disaster before it strikes.

Declining forest cover is a major issue, affecting Kenya's water towers as well as our wildlife diversity. So we've been working with the government to try to 'green' Kenya and raise environmental awareness. The Red Cross Society will support these initiatives by planting 2.5 billion trees and shrubs by 2018, and carrying out other environment management activities including waste management, enhanced river basin and wetlands rehabilitation and restoration.

We're also focusing on developing climate information and early warning systems, public education and awareness and environmental education in schools, as well as enhancing knowledge about climate change. Technological innovation - in particular satellite data and mobile phone technology - will continue to play a huge role here. Traditional mobile phones are already allowing farmers to secure current prices for their crops - and be paid rapidly and securely through Mpesa. Who knows what the era of smartphones will bring?

What is clear from all this is that Kenya, like many other African countries, is challenging stereotypes about aid and development, proving that Africa can stand on its own two feet. By linking our disaster relief programmes to education, development and business opportunities, humanitarian action can become a two-way street - empowering Kenyans against the negative impact of climate change all year round, not just when the next crisis hits.