As Kenya prepares for the first general elections in 2012 under the new Constitution, the media’s focus has been on politics. While this is important, the media should not forget other critical and pressing issues that need urgent attention. As agenda setters and opinion shapers, the media should not be swayed by politicians and their aggressive campaigns to get votes and gain favor among the electorate.
Climate change is one key issue that the media should focus on. The Horn of Africa experienced the worst famine in four decades this year and people are still reeling under its effects. It is laudable that the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern Africa (COMESA) and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) launched a joint five-year programme on climate change adaptation and mitigation in early December, 2011. Aimed at addressing the impacts of climate change in the EAC, COMESA and SADC region through successful adaptation and mitigation actions to enhance economic and social resilience, member states need to urgently create policies to implement the programme. It is worth noting that the EAC has taken the lead and established the Climate Change Fund and the Climate Change Coordination Unit.
The media should come in to set the agenda and shape public opinion on climate change. For starters, the media need to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change among the citizenry, development partners, the private sector and the government. Secondly, the media should provide a platform upon which the citizenry can engage the government on climate change, demanding and claiming their rights to cushion them from climate change impacts such as famine and floods. Last but not least, the media should find a way of generating debate among key stakeholders on climate change including the government, development partners, the private sector, the civil society and the citizenry.
The impacts of climate change and the need for urgent attention cannot be overemphasized. According to a report by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) (Climate Change: Impacts, Vulnerabilities and Adaptation in Developing Countries) the impacts of climate change in Africa are many. In regard to water, many countries will face water stress with 75-220 million people facing severe water shortages by 2020. In as far as agriculture and food security are concerned, agricultural production will be severely compromised due to uncertainty about what and when to plant as weather patterns will be unpredictable. Worse still, the report predicts that yields from rain-fed crops could be halved by 2020 in some countries with net revenues from crops falling by 90% by 2100. Last but not least, an increase in frequency and intensity of extreme events, including droughts and floods are likely to occur.
Given that Africa and East Africa in particular have low adaptive capacity to both climate variability and climate change, it is important that the mass media use their power to help address these issues. This is urgent and important because the situation is exacerbated by the existing challenges including endemic widespread poverty, limited access to capital, including markets, infrastructure and technology, complex disasters and conflicts.