FCFA’s East Africa research team – HyCRISTAL – visited an informal settlement in Kisumu, Kenya to observe practical examples of the impact of climate on water and sanitation services and to engage with the community. FCFA Research Fellow Zablone Owiti shares insights from the trip. The HyCRISTAL team recently held its second annual meeting in Kisumu, Kenya, and as part of this, conducted a field trip to Obunga, an informal settlement in the city. The trip provided practical examples of the impact of climate on water and sanitation services in an informal settlement and provided an opportunity to engage with local communities facing climate variability and change. The research team met with community members, and presented HyCRISTAL’s project goals and objectives. The community leaders articulated the ongoing challenges they face. These include poor water quality due to inadequate water treatment, shallow wells, and a high water table leading to contamination. It also includes lack of drainage and acceptable sanitation services due to use of traditional pit latrines vulnerable to leakages and collapse during heavy rains, and poor physical and environmental conditions. These challenges all add up to high levels of environmental risks. The community members also shared their experiences regarding climate change and impacts they have observed and perceived over time. Increased rainfall variability (changes in rainfall patterns, including changes in on-set – rainfall seasons becoming shorter) lead to crop failures. There are frequent and severe floods and drought events; and an increase in temperature. They claimed that these impacts are exacerbated by non-environmentally sound practices such as farming on wetlands; forest degradation in the catchment area leading to increased runoff; farming and use of fertilisers in the surrounding highland areas leading to water contamination, eutrophication (excess of nutrients), siltation in the wetlands resulting and reduced fish production. These unsound practices were attributed to a lack of awareness of existing policies and poor enforcement of existing regulations. Some of the activities proposed by the community to enable them to adapt to and cope with climate variability and change impacts include improved river management, reforestation, monthly environmental awareness campaigns including creating awareness on the use of organic manure to avoid artificial fertiliser use. Other measures included waste collection and segregation by youth groups – which could also reduce cholera outbreaks – and encouraging the production of artifacts from waste materials, to generate income by women’s groups. The community members expressed their willingness to participate in the HyCRISTAL project – as they hoped that the project would address some of their water and sanitation challenges. “We hope this project will drag us out of this mud we are stuck in,” said one of the community leaders as his parting shot. It was noted that for this particular informal settlement, residents seemed to be mobilised and active. They are aware of the challenges and possible solutions. This may not be the case in other informal settlements in the Lake Victoria Basin. HyCRISTAL will develop new climate science and apply it to support rural communities’ resilience to the impacts of climate change and extremes and in urban communities where water and sanitation is a challenge. This will be achieved by linking science with the probable changes in rural livelihoods due to climate change, alongside other drivers such as land-use change, to co-develop coping strategies. This will also inform decisions that meet the region’s societal needs in both urban and rural areas. This will be achieved through a series of pilot demonstration projects from which lessons and best practices will be discerned. The targeted beneficiaries are rural communities reliant on agriculture and fishing and vulnerable to climate change and extremes. Other beneficiaries include urban populations where water supply and sanitation is under pressure due to high rates of population growth and more frequent and intense floods, outstretching the existing sanitation provision. HyCRISTAL is one of FCFA’s five research consortia. The project’s goal is to understand the challenges and context of climate change impact at local level and to inform local-based solutions. The research focuses on East Africa, with project sites in the Lake Victoria Basin. Read the full report here.