The coastlines of Kenya and Tanzania extend for 600km and 1,424km respectively and are endowed with rich natural resources ranging from fisheries, coastal forests, coral reefs, seagrass beds, beaches, rocky shores and sheltered bays (among others). These resources contribute significantly to the coastal and national economies of these states especially through the tourism, shipping and fishing industries. The livelihoods of coastal people are largely dependent on local natural resources for the provision of food, building materials, recreation and employment. With an ever increasing coastal population due to immigration from inland besides natural growth, the value of these resources has become even more critical. Tanzania has an estimated population of 32 million people with the coastal population being 25% of the national average, while the coastal population in Kenya is about 2.5 million, which is 8% of the national population.
Coastal resources are under threat by many factors including conversion, overexploitation, pollution, and more recently by the impacts of climate change. Climate change is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global averages of air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level. As climate change accelerates, it will interact synergistically with other stressors to further compromise the integrity of these critical ecosystems.
In the context of climate change, coastal resources in particular and ecosystems in general will be impacted by sea-level rise, elevated temperatures, flooding, sedimentation, prolonged droughts and elevated CO2 levels. For instance, the elevation of sea surface temperature by 1oC in 1997/8 and subsequent years caused widespread bleaching and subsequent death of coral reefs in many areas in the Western Indian Ocean, while the abnormally high precipitation experienced during the same time caused massive sedimentation and flooding in mangrove forests leading to die-back in many areas. Unfortunately, other than coral reefs, not much has been done in assessing the impacts of climate change on coastal and marine resources and other sectors in the region.
A study undertaken by EAWLS show that climate change impacts will threaten the livelihoods of coastal communities through resource and general environmental degradation, which will compromise the capacity of ecosystems to provide inherent goods and services. Recent reduction in precipitation in the region resulting from climate change has led to overall reduction in agricultural productivity and yields, including rangeland and livestock production, thus threatening food security and heightening the risk of famine, which will subject tens of millions of people to the risk of food insecurity in the coming decades. Due to low economic development, and institutional capacity, regional countries are likely to be amongst the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Climate change impacts have the potential to undermine and even undo progress made in improving the socio-economic well-being of East Africans. The negative impacts associated with climate change are also compounded by many factors, including widespread poverty, human diseases, and high population density, which is estimated to double the demand for food, water, and livestock forage within the next 30 years.
However, opportunities exist for coastal communities and states to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts including carbon financing, adoption of ICZM, ecosystem restoration, development of alternative livelihoods to reduce pressure on primary resources and enhance the adaptive capacity of local communities, water harvesting in rain seasons and investment in early warning systems. There will be need for regional countries to cooperate in climate change mitigation and adaptation since some impacts transcend national boundaries. Formation of a climate change Secretariat at the level of East Africa Community to coordinate climate change program in the region will enhance regional cooperation. Investment in climate change research for monitoring of impacts under different scenarios will be necessary. For effective implementation of climate change programs, capacity building at different levels will be required.
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