By BONIFACE MULU
The Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) developed the Climate Information Services Plan in the country in 2013. Making the remarks, the KMD Forecastry Services Deputy Director, Bernard Chanzu, disclosed that they implement the plan in eleven of the Kenya’s 47 counties.
“The eleven are the pilot counties in the county and they are Kitui, Isiolo, Vihiga, Garissa, Kisii, Wajir, Makueni, Bomet, Kisumu, Nandi and Kakamega,” the KMD official said.
The officer was speaking when officially opening the Climate Information Services Plan (CISP) validation workshop for the Kitui County organised by the Anglican Development Services Eastern (ADSE) in partnership with the Christian Aid at the Kitui Parkside Villa Hotel in Kitui Town on Monday, December 2, 2019 where he was the chief guest at the function.
He was representing the KMD Director Stella Aura at the occasion. The KMD is a national government institution. Chanzu said that they partner with the county governments and organisations like the Christian Aid in implementing the plan.
The meteorologist said that Kitui was one of the counties that were supposed to implement the CISP first. He said the mandate of the KMD is derived from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) Convention, which is to provide accurate and timely weather and climate information and services for the safety of life, protection of property and conservation of the natural environment.
Participants were from Kitui County. And in his lecture to the participants, the Kitui County Meteorological Director, Daniel Mbithi, said that the easily accessible, timely and decision-relevant scientific information can help the society to cope with the current climate variability and change and limit the economic and social damage caused by climate-related disasters.
“The Climate Information Services (CIS) can also support the society to build resilience to future climate change and take advantage of opportunities provided by favourable climate conditions. Effective CIS require established technical capacities and active communication and exchange between information producers, translators, and user communities,” Mbithi said.
This initiative outlines a proposed framework for a Kitui County Climate Information Services Plan (KCCISP) which aims to develop and deliver weather and climate information which can support the local, district, county and national-level decision making at time frames of hours, days, weeks, months, seasons and years in line with the national and international development frameworks including the Kenya’s 2010 constitution.
The Kenya Vision 2030 and the National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS) as well as the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS), the expert said.
“The plan recognises that the delivery of the climate information service which can effectively support decision making requires the engagement of a wide range of stakeholders,” Mbithi said. According to the 2009 Kenya’s national census, the population of Kitui County was 1,013,000, Mbithi said.
“The Tana and Athi rivers are the only perennial rivers in the county. The Athi river flows along the border with Machakos County to the west and with Makueni County to the south west, while the Tana river to the north marks the border with Embu and Tharaka Nithi Counties.
The county has no lake but has several dams and water pans that play a significant role in providing water. Most of the dams dry up during the dry season due to the high evaporation rates of between 1800 – 2000 milimeters per year, Mbithi said. “The spring water is generally found in the county’s hilly areas such as the Mutitu Hills, Endau Hills and Mutha Hills. The springs vary in their flow regimes and some dry up during extended drought periods,” he said.
The expert said the underground water sources supplement the scarce surface water sources through drilling boreholes. “The population is heavily reliant on Agro-pastoralism and there are two principle livelihood groups- marginal mixed farming and mixed farming with the main livestock reared across both groups including goats, sheep, cattle, poultry and bees.
Very low and unreliable rainfall, a high reliance on rainfed agriculture together with poor soils, makes farming difficult in more than 90 per cent of the county’s area. Mbithi said the mixed farming areas grow maize, beans, pigeon peas and cowpeas for household consumption and fruits and cotton and vegetables for income.
He added that the marginal mixed farming areas where the rainfall is more erratic, grow millet, cow peas, cassava and sweet potatoes for household consumption and green grams, sorghum and vegetables to sell.
“Amongst the principal factors affecting food security include poor temporal and spatial distribution of rainfall, conflict along the border with the Tana River County, over reliance on maize as the main staple and low use of fertilizers and certified seeds,” he said.
A series of successive droughts had in 2013 caused a reduction in the livestock holding per household compared to long term averages, Mbithi said. He said the distances to and waiting time at water sources together with the cost of water significantly impact on the health of households and livestock.
The Kitui County has mainstreamed the development agenda and accords priority to programmes and projects that support the goals of the Kenya Vision 2030.
The county has five pillars for the social-economic and the county’s political transformation that includes among others the food security and water, the universal health coverage and wealth creation, he said. He added that the county will give priority to supporting value addition in agriculture and livestock industries.
“It is recognised that the food security cannot be guaranteed without provision of water due to the semi-arid climatic conditions in the county. In this regard, irrigation and programmes to enhance access to water such as water harvesting, drilling of boreholes and extensions of water piping will receive increased attention,” the meteorologist said.
Mbithi added that the county receives rains twice a year with a high variability in annual rainfall, ranging between 500 and 1050 milimeters. The topography of the landscape influences the amount of rainfall received, he said.
“The short October- November- December rains are more reliable and are the county’s principal productive season. The long March- April- May rains usually provide about 30 per cent of the crop production and is the major season for the production of pulses including green grams and pigeon peas,” the expert said.
Since the early 1960s both minimum (night) and maximum (day) temperatures have been on a warming trend throughout Kenya. Current projections indicate increases in temperature and recent trends show a marked increase in interannual variability and distribution of rains with an increase in the number of consecutive dry days and shorter, more intense periods of rainfall.
Recent extreme flood and drought events are estimated to have reduced long-term growth in Kenya by about 2.4 per cent of the GDP per annum, he said. Mbithi further said the future climate change may lead to a change in the frequency or severity of such extreme weather events, potentially worsening impacts.
He added that the increased average temperatures and changes in annual and seasonal rainfall will be felt across key economic sectors such as agricultural production, health status, water availability, energy use, infrastructure, biodiversity and ecosystem services including forestry and tourism.
“The impacts are likely to have disproportionately strong effects on the poor as such vulnerable groups have fewer resources to adapt to climatic change,” he said.
“The Kitui County Climate Information Services Plan aims to develop and deliver accessible, timely, relevant information which can support local, district and county-level decision making at time frames of hours, days, weeks, months, seasons and years for improved livelihoods and resilience building towards the impacts of the climate change,” he said.
There are two principal groups of CIS users- those with climate-sensitive livelihoods and government planners and decision makers, Mbithi said.
The official said the community users find the current KMD information to be too general and not relevant to their specific localities and livelihoods. Farmers and pastoralists have requested information on the onset, quality, geographic and temporal distribution and cessation of the rains, including frequency of extended dry spells, as well as high and low temperatures, high winds, hail, fog and cloud cover, he said.
“They want to receive seasonal forecasts with monthly and weekly updates as well as daily updates during the run up and over the wet seasons. Some farmers and those engaged in activities related to agriculture and livestock have requested daily updates throughout the year to support harvesting, drying, storage and marketing, particularly given increased variability in rainfall,” Mbithi said.
The community users have also asked for information about extreme weather events including heavy rains which may cause flash floods cutting off roads and trigger landslides, the KMD official said.
He said that the weather and climate can have particular impacts on women including in their roles as principal providers of care for vulnerable household members and duties to meet household water requirements as well as in their farming and marketing roles.
“The KMD has undertaken consultations with a wide range of users and is strengthening its data, observational, processing, analysis and communication capacities to best meet the range of user needs identified. The users have a key role in enabling KMD to develop and deliver CIS which best support specific decision-making processes, he said.
“The users understand the specific decisions which particular types of weather and climate information can support,” he added. “Technical experts from across line departments can advise on key thresholds which significantly impact the county’s principal livelihood groups including climate parameters for crop development, livestock and crop diseases and pests,” Mbithi said.
The expert added that the local communities have historical knowledge about the past weather events which can be of support where past historical datasets are sparse. He also said the local observations of the weather and climate and its impact will be of tremendous value in enabling the KMD to deliver more locally accurate and relevant forecasts. The meteorologist said the Kitui County Climate Information Services Plan provides a framework to support the ongoing exchange of information between the providers and users of weather and climate information.
Many users do not fully appreciate the probabilistic nature of weather and climate information. It is essential to build the users understanding of the levels of confidence and uncertainty within the weather and climate information if they are to make appropriate use of this, Mbithi said.
“Failure to strengthen this understanding risks heightening mistrust where the users perceive the information as wrong when the less likely event occurs and increasing vulnerability where the information is misapplied,” the KMD official said.
And he added that the resilience can be increased through strengthening capacities to make decisions with uncertain information. He said the KMD has recognised the need to build the communication capacities of its staff.
“It has initiated the risk communication training for the KMD County Directors and the current initiative encompasses further training both for the KMD County Offices and the County Information Services intermediaries,” Mbithi said.
The KMD is mandated to provide the meteorological and related services to support safety of life and protection of property, safeguard the environment and contribute to sustainable development, he added.
“Established in 2012, the Kitui County Meteorological Office is the sub-national weather service branch of the KMD and is planned to be an information centre to reach the Kitui County people up to the grassroots with relevant weather and climate information,” the expert said.
The Office is headed by the Kitui County Meteorological Services Director, who is amongst other areas responsible for monitoring the weather, climate, water, air and noise pollution and related environmental information within the county, Mbithi said.
The officer said the KCCISP recognises that the delivery of the climate information service which can effectively support the decision making requires the engagement of a wide range of stakeholders.
The KCCISP stakeholders encompass the county government administration at the county, district, ward and village levels, county departments across sectors together with their respective extension services, decentralised government agencies, religious leaders across different faith groups and denominations, local community and livelihood associations, private sector bodies and national and international public based organisations and universities and research institutes.
“As such, the Kitui Meteorological Office will develop and deliver the KCCISP through the linkage with and supporting the activities of these stakeholder groups, the KMD official added. Mbithi said: “The Kitui County Meteorological Office will also seek to provide relevant support to the County Steering Group on Drought and Emergency and other sectoral and contingency planning as required.”
He said the KCCISP will integrate initiatives to strengthen the CIS across a number of complementary projects underway at the national level and within the Kitui County. And he added that the provision of the CIS will link with the Kenya’s Agricultural Sector Development and Support Programme (ASDSP) together with the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS).
“Currently, the Kitui County has three automated weather stations (AWS) found at the Kitui Met Station (operational), the Mutomo District Agricultural Office (not operational) and the Syeikulu District Agricultural Office (Not operational), one Agromet weather station and approximately 30 rain gauges with long-term records.
Before, the nearest KMD observation stations used to be in Makindu, Makueni County,” the expert said. He added that the county currently lacks an effective network of observational stations with the existing distribution too focused around the county’s capital town and not representative of the county’s rainfall patterns.
“There are a number of rainfall stations installed by individuals or public based organisations which are not registered with the KMD and therefore do not contribute to the much-needed data for understanding the Kitui County’s climate,” Mbithi said.
He also said that some rain gauges are currently sited in inappropriate places such as too close to building or under trees with inappropriate or unsystematic collation of rainfall data. According to him, in 2014 KMD conducted an assessment of meteorological infrastructure to develop an inventory of equipment and its status.
He further said that the KMD plans to install some weather observatories for the Kitui County with equitable distribution. He said the County Meteorological Office is undertaking an inventory to review and equip the existing rain gauges and where necessary establish new gauges.
“It is envisaged that a number of community-managed rain gauges will be installed with training to ensure a standard way of collating information. Efforts will be made to locate rain gauges accessible to the ward administrators and adaptation committees and where relevant with water and electricity facilities,” the meteorologist said.
“The Kitui County Meteorological Office will develop the weather and climate information which supports decision making across the principal livelihood groups as well as strategic and sectoral county government planning,” Mbithi added.
The officer said the KMD Nairobi headquarters sends to the County Meteorological Office probabilistic forecast information on seasonal rainfall totals and rain onset, cessation and distribution and temperature.
“The CMO uses historical climate data and indigeneous knowledge of climate variability to downscale the national forecasts to develop a forecast for Kitui County,” Mbithi said. In his lecture, the Makueni County Meteorological Director, David Mutua, said that the coffee and dairy farming thrives in the high potential areas in the county’s highlands.
“We in Makueni County are bench marking with Kitui County to capitalise on lessons learned,” Mutua said. We interact with the meteorological directors in the other counties in the country that are covered by the project, the director said.
He added that they in Makueni County train and recruit intermediaries for the good of the county’s CISP.