WRITTEN BY:Judith Akolo Kenya Broadcasting Corporation/ NECJOGHA
Kenya today reels from one climate related crisis to another. When it is not a drought and below average rainfall, then it is floods with torrential rainfall.
Kenya loses 3% in gross domestic product to climate extreme events, said President Uhuru Kenyatta when he addressed the Climate Ambition Summit 2020.
In 2020 the long rains saw a dozen people die through drowning as a result of flash floods and or rivers breaking banks. Yet, the Kenya Meteorological Department clearly indicated in its forecast for the 2020 March, April, May long rains season, that floods would affect some parts of the country. The statement further asked Kenyans to avoid walking or driving in rain water above their ankles to reduce the risk of drowning.
When you do not plan, then you are planning to fail. Waiting for disasters like droughts and floods, to strike, ought not be the case if policy planners can plan ahead using the early warning information from the Kenya Meteorological Department.
The role of the media is critical for unpacking information on the seasonal weather prediction so that the public and policy planners can make informed decisions. It is important that the media is able to interpret weather and climate information and make it understandable.
The media houses need to begin to look at weather and climate information as news that should compete for airtime in the case of Radio and Television and for space in the print media the same way political stories or business stories do. A weather and climate story has much the same weight as any other story.
We need more journalists who focus on weather and climate
The Weatherman has released the March, April and May long rains seasonal forecast for this year. But it is likely that not everybody is on the same page in terms of what the forecast portends.
The reason for this is clear: many people do not believe the forecasts, some question where the meteorologists get the information from. Others simply dismiss the forecasts with a wave of the hand.
However, The media may not be able to effectively communicate about the forecast if they lack the interest to report weather and climate information, or when they lack the knowledge on how to unpack the story from the information provided by the scientist. The solution lies in more journalists receiving training in weather and climate reporting and for media houses to begin recruiting journalists that have a background in weather and climate reporting.
This can only happen if enough journalists are trained in science reporting with a special focus on weather and climate reporting.
Critical role of the weather forecast
A weather forecast is an very important piece of information that informs our daily activities. If one leaves the house and did not watch the weather forecast that showed there could be showers in several places, then they may end up not carrying an umbrella. When they are drenched in rain, they will always blame the weatherman by saying that perhaps the forecast had indicated it would be a sunny day. only for it to turn out grey and rainy. The same does happen with the government, when a forecast is released, it is deemed to be the activity for the Kenya Meteorological Department and it matters less for them.
This state of affairs can be changed. We must begin to see weather and climate information as the fulcrum of our activities, on a micro and macro-scale.
Take, for example, when the country depends on hydro-electricity power generation for its electricity supply. This is depends how much water there is in our rivers. In Kenya, River Tana, River Sondu Miriu and River Turkwel are the backbone of hydro-electricity power generation. When the seasonal forecast indicates that the catchment areas that feed these rivers will receive below average rainfall, then the planners need to put contingency measures in place.
When the forecast like the one for this year’s long rains season, indicates that the catchment areas will receive enhanced rainfall, then the government must plan on how to maximise on this opportunity and plan accordingly.
No need for a blame game, find a solution
A change of attitude to weather forecasts can be driven by a media that is receptive of weather forecasts, can interpret the science of weather forecasting and is able to deliver objective reporting that can get policy planners to act accordingly.
It also requires an audience that is receptive to weather and climate information. Kenya has television audiences that are ready to watch politicians hurl insults at each other and once the political stories are over, they switch channels to look for more political stories. Perhaps, the point at which they switch channels is when a science story with information on the seasonal forecast is about to go on air.
When caught up in a drought, with the rivers drying and no pasture for the animals, the same public will blame the media for not reporting on such matters or blame the Kenya Meteorological Department for not issuing an alert. The same happens when the rains are heavy: public will complain that they were not warned in good time.
Training journalists to make weather and climate information interesting yet objective cannot be ad hoc. The Ministry of Education should develop a curriculum for media colleges that includes training for journalists in weather and climate reporting.
Why do I say this? Climate change impacts are becoming increasingly evident by the day and affecting Kenyans. Mohammed Kassim a fisherman, at Wasini Island along the Kenyan coast, is now 48 years old. At age of 15, he would accompany his father on fishing expeditions in the Indian Ocean. They would be back home at daybreak with enough fish to sell and eat. Today, he told me, he goes to fish and can hardly catch 20 fish. He says the ocean is now warmer which makes it difficult for the fish to survive. Kassim may not know the science behind it, but he knows something has changed. Hence the need for the media to show the link between climate change impacts on livelihoods and food insecurity.
If media training colleges train journalists on business reporting, then these institutions must look at weather and climate reporting as critical to the growth of the economy. The same can be said of health reporting, since weather and climate have everything to do with poor health. This is especially so during the COVID-19 pandemic, when low rainfall can mean the choice between drinking water and water for washing hands in some areas.
Journalists who are trained in science reporting, with emphasis on weather and climate reporting, are as asset to the public and the government. It has to be all hands on the deck, so that we can build a media who can keep us all informed.
Judith Akolo is journalist with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation with a special focus on reporting on climate change. She has vast experience reporting on climate change spanning over 20 years. She is in charge of Education and Publicity at the Network of Climate Journalists of the Greater Horn of Africa (NECJOGHA). Judith is currently pursuing a Master of Climate Change and Adaptation course at the Institute of Climate Change and Adaptation of the University of Nairobi