Kenya reckons with floods as Durban talks agree on climate fund

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Just days before world leaders at a major climate conference in Durban, South Africa, announced the creation of a fund to help poor countries deal with the effects of global-warming and climate change, floods continued to threaten major towns around Kenya.

In Nairobi, heavy rains caused the Nairobi River to spill its banks and flood the nearby Kibera slum.

Standing in the doorway of her home in the city’s largest slum, Margaret Otieno expressed fear and confusion about the rising waters.

"One moment it is sunny, the next minute it is raining heavily,” Otieno said. “This Nairobi weather has become very unpredictable.”

The floods have killed dozens and left tens of thousands homeless, the Kenya Red Cross said. Above all, they have shocked residents and officials who until recent weeks were reckoning with a record-setting drought, Kenya's worst in decades.

“The magnitude of the challenges facing African countries as a result of climate change is of wartime proportions,” said Calestous Juma, who teaches international development at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

“What is different now is that there is more evidence and great need to action. There is no alternative but to start working on adaptation.”

“This is a clear indication of climate change,” said Marigi Samuel, a forecaster at the Kenya Meteorological Department. “Initially, these bouts of drought and floods would come every seven to 10 years. The frequency has gone up lately because of the rising temperatures of the Earth.”

The severity of the situation in East Africa appeared to lend urgency to U.N. climate talks in South Africa, where world leaders agreed to establish a $100 billion fund that would help developing countries deal with the effects of global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Green Climate Fund, which aims to help in mitigation and adaptation activities in poor countries, was originally agreed upon at the Copenhagen talks in 2009.

“It had to happen this time round,” said John Kioli, chairman of the Kenya Climate Change Working Group. “Time was running away and this deal had to be sealed.”

The fund will be overseen by a 24-member board from developed and developing nations. Although the final document does not give specifics about where the funding will come from, countries like South Korea, Germany and Denmark have pledged to contribute in the short term.

In Nairobi, news of the climate deal was met with antagonism.

“There is nothing substantial that we can bank on,” Samuel said.

Kioli, who was with the Kenyan delegation in Durban, expressed similar doubts.

“It is not what we bargained for," he said. “We are not sure even sure if donors are going to come through.”

Back in the Kibera slum, Otieno went about her daily chores. For now the rains have stopped but Otieno says she continues to move her possessions to higher ground at night, just in case waters rise again while she is sleeping.

“Until the government decides to do something serious here," Otieno said, "this is going to be a persisting problem and that is not a good way of living.”