Due to climate change, extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and earthquakes are becoming more common all over the word. At the same time, because of environmental degradation, populations are becoming more vulnerable. This situation increases poverty levels, mainly reducing agricultural income and exacerbating global threats related to food insecurity. For that reason, governments have been forced to take action in order to reduce climate change consequences and facilitate adaptation to those who are already suffering the effects.
There are two main instruments to improve environmental conditions –mitigation and adaptation initiatives. Mitigation initiatives aim to reduce and reverse the adverse consequences of climate change. These initiatives are generally oriented to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and in these cases, the effectiveness of the implementation very much depends on the commitment of the big polluters. Even when mitigation initiatives are in place it is necessary to reduce people’s exposure to the threats of climate change and protect them from the effects. This protection is displayed by adaptation initiatives aimed at reducing people’s vulnerability in the short term.
As in many other areas of study, community engagement may be essential for environmental protection. In this case, adaptation strategies implemented by the community can be very beneficial to improving their own conditions but at the same time for the environment. One of the systems that are becoming more and more popular to implement and coordinate these initiatives are mobile technologies. Mobile technologies are increasingly present in our lives and are spread all over the world, both in developed and in developing countries. We can take advantage of this technology and use it as a tool to promote environmental protection.
Kenya’s economy, as many other African countries, depends on agriculture and tourism. For that reason, Kenyans are very reliant on weather conditions and their livelihoods are considerably vulnerable to environmental changes. Environmental protection and climate resilience are considered basic elements creating equitable social development, reducing poverty and creating an advanced society.
In 2008 the government of Kenya launched the `Kenya Vision 2030´ development programme. The programme aimed to transform Kenyan society and to improve and accelerate the economic development of the country. Environmental protection and climate resilience were considered basic elements of the project and for that reason, diverse initiatives were launched in different areas of the country in order to improve agricultural practices and increase farmers’ revenues.
Within these initiatives there are two -generally considered- successful projects, the E-Environment project and the Digital Villages project.
The E-Environment project also known as the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project, is designed to improve living conditions of the communities living in the Lake Victoria area. The plan is principally aimed at reversing the environmental degradation of the lake. The region´s water supply mainly suffers from pollution and the invasion of a foreign species, the water hyacinth, which occupies an important part of the lake and makes it difficult for other species to survive. Mobile technologies were used to raise awareness of environmental degradation, coordinate cleaning initiatives and recommend environmentally friendly practices. The project was very well received as the population suffered from environmental degradation in a direct way. One of the main industries of the area was fishing and exports to the European Union were restricted as they did not reach the minimum standards required due to pollution. After months of work, water quality was improved, pollution levels were reduced and fish exports to the European Union were re-established.
The other successful example is the Digital Villages project implemented in Kibera (the largest slum in Nairobi). This initiative has two goals. The first is to empower community dwellers in order to improve their living conditions. The second is to reduce environmental hazards that worsen living conditions. The Digital Villages Project is a SMS service that announces important community facts. The alerts have two main objectives: to inform the community of future events such as a floods or droughts in order to be prepared for extreme conditions and to mobilize the residents to participate in community self-help activities such fire extinction and reforestation. Community participation has notably improved the quality of life in Kibera during the last decade.
Mobile tools have mainly been criticised because of their limitations in terms of unequal access and the underestimation of maintenance costs. Nevertheless, when projects involve community participation and the community as a whole is going to benefit, mobile technologies can be very inclusive and play an important role as people are more likely to share the information because they have common interests.
In both cases above mentioned, the initiatives were successful because they were implemented by the communities themselves, after having realized the need for environmental protection and the potential strength of community effort. This highlights the importance of aligning projects with individual’s needs and interests, in order to reach a high level of effectiveness.
Environmental degradation is a global phenomenon that does not take borders into consideration. The way to reverse the effects is through the implementation of mitigation policies and the collaboration of the main polluters. In the meantime, community participation may be the key to improving life conditions and mobile technologies may be one of the most powerful tools to do it.