The benefits of community-managed resource approaches

Hilary Nicole Zainab Ervin, Nairobi Community Manager
Nairobi, 10 December 2015

The urban poor are disproportionately suffering from the impacts of climate change while having at their disposal limited access to rights-based education or advocacy channels to challenge these occurrences. Working to increase accountability to the needs of climate-affected populations is a central mission of numerous local climate change and environmental justice organizations. The Institute for Law & Environmental Governance (ILEG) is working to address these environmental concerns through a local to global strategy of research, capacity building, policy formulation, and project implementation.

ILEG has undertaken a Gap Analysis on how to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) through a conservation and sustainable management approach that nests communities as key agents of stewardship. Deforestation in the Mau Forest region has the potential to increase violent conflicts in the region as this area serves as a catchment basin for the Nile River, and as a result, is a key international water resource with far-reaching implications if managed improperly. As highlighted by ILEG in their REDD+ Gap Analysis, it is critical that the Government of Kenya take seriously the formulation of laws and policies that protect and conserve remaining forests while also working to improve local livelihoods.

However, for many poor households clearing land for small-scale agriculture projects and conversion to cooking fuels are critical sources of income and resources. Further, residents whose tenements occupy space on privately owned land live in a state of constant insecurity. Housing development often takes place alongside poor communities; however, they are rarely allowed the space to contribute to, or consult on, these projects. One of Nairobi’s greatest environmental challenges, and area of much innovation, centers on improved access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities. This is also a climate justice issue, as the individuals lacking access tend to also be disproportionally affected by raw, open sewage in their communities and inadequate basic health facilities.

For example, a new housing project alongside the informal settlement of Jam City in Machakos County, roughly 17 kilometers from Nairobi town center, was built squarely in a flood plain. Jam City residents had purposefully built their houses of corrugated iron and sheet metal just outside of this plain, and in response to a lack of improved sanitation facilities they dug pit latrines. The new apartment complex was constructed directly in the flood plain and the developers built a wall around the property, which diverted floodwaters directly to Jam City. As a result, residents of Jam City have suffered increased mortality associated from drowning when the floods occur, as well as increased rates of morbidity associated with water-borne illnesses such as malaria and numerous diarrheal diseases.

Social justice initiatives and environmental advocacy groups have worked to target these glaring inequalities that are further exacerbated by climate change. As urban development continues to visibly increase inequalities in access and affordability of improved housing and sanitation infrastructure it is critical that communities are incorporated in decisions making and accounted for in planning practice. Though Kenya has adopted a number of climate centered initiatives these policy documents have not yet been widely implemented. As Kenya works towards its first comprehensive climate sensitive national environmental policy, it is critical that communities are included as active participants in this process. The Institute works to ensure these objectives are mainstreamed in the planning and implementation of a national action strategy.

Photo credit: Geoff Livingston

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