‘City mother’ tackling environmental issues in Nairobi

Cynthia Sitati, climate change adaptation specialist

Cynthia Sitati, climate change adaptation specialist at the Stockholm Environment Institute. She is calling on lawmakers to make environmentally sound policies.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

Cynthia Sitati’s priority is in ‘green mobility’ methods that champion clean and efficient transport system and building designs that beat climate change.

As a little girl at Mount Elgon Academy in Kitale town, Trans Nzoia County, Ms Cynthia Sitati, a climate change adaptation scientist, hoped that future generations would continue enjoying Mt Elgon’s scenic view that her school was named after .

She was naïve and never foresaw the challenges ahead. The forest was getting decimated fast by human activities that thinned the canopies, resulting in environmental issues such as air pollution.

Cynthia, now 30, has witnessed first-hand the effects of environmental destruction. In the course of her field work, she has seen how people are struggling with climate change problems, gradually threatening to walk some creatures through the ‘valley of death’ and into extinction.

A research associate on climate issues at Stockholm Environment Institute, Africa Centre, in Nairobi’s Gigiri, Cynthia is researching hard to find locally adaptable solutions that will deal with climate change menace, such as rapidly changing weather patterns and unpredictable rains leading to year-to-year food shortage.

Bequeathing next generation

“As we continue releasing harmful greenhouse gases to the atmosphere such as carbon, methane and others that interfere with the ozone layer and nature balance, we are getting into more unpredictable rainfall, harsh weather conditions, increasing heat during summer, too cold winters, and prolonged drought and famine among others,” Cynthia explains.

“It’s about time everybody rose up to do something to ensure a sustainable environment that we can bequeath the next generations, the way our fore parents did. If we don’t, history will judge us harshly for being so selfish and for sacrificing future generations,” the passionate scientist adds.

Further, she says the danger of environmental pollution and its impact on people’s health became clearer to her in 2021, during one of her research studies in Korogoncho’s informal settlement, in Eastlands Nairobi. “I had gone there to find out how air pollution in the densely populated Nairobi estate was affecting people’s lives,” she offers.

The six-month research project titled ‘Clean Air Engineering for Homes’ was done jointly with Stockholm Environment Institute and the University of Surrey, and focused on the housing structure, ventilation, and the type of energy used to cook and to light homes.

“Our research method entiled monitoring those tiny particles, too small to be seen with naked eyes, but quite dangerous if constantly breathed in by humans, known as particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10). We discovered heavy presence of particulate matter mainly from carbon from burning charcoal. Ninety percent of those in informal settlements use charcoal to cook.

“Besides carbon pollution, the houses in the informal settlements are constructed using poor-quality building materials, and there is also overcrowding which predisposes the residents to indoor air pollution and other related health hazards,” Cynthia says.

From the research findings, Cynthia and fellow researchers concluded that policy and decision makers need to employ strategies to deal with air and other forms of pollution in informal settlements.

“I am glad that policy makers and communities have become aware of domestic air pollution. However, what remains is the national and county governments to scale up the use of non polluting energies such as LPG and solar for the low income earners. Innovation on affordable technologies should be supported, which will together mitigate for the high energy demand in the country,” Cynthia explains.

‘City mother’

Were she to be appointed the ‘City Mother’ of Nairobi County to steer climate change adaptation programmes, her priority would be to encourage ‘green mobility’ methods to promote environmental friendly and efficient transport.

“This involves non-fossil fuel and non-motorised transport systems such as cycling, walking, electric vehicles, electric bikes and solar buses currently being implemented in cities around the world to cut back air pollution,” she emphasises.

The decision would be informed by statistics showing that vehicular transport sector accounts for 11 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions, whereby road transport alone accounts for above 90 per cent of these emissions.

In Nairobi alone, more than 40 per cent of fine particulate matter comes from vehicular emissions, exposing residents to air pollution. Traffic jam is also a key contributor to air pollution in the cities. Therefore, road transport is one of the most significant contributors of air pollution and finding solutions that are environmentally friendly, affordable and inclusive will help in reducing pollution emissions.

Cynthia’s other strategy would be to ensure that old and new buildings are self-sustainable with green/clean energy efficiency. This will stop overreliance on national power grid for virtually every other energy needs such as lighting.

Green economy

Cynthia roots for innovation and community capacity building as key drivers of change in the war against global warming and climate change.

“To succeed in creating sustainable shift to green economy, we should leave no one behind in spreading the facts and information, strengthening skills needed to reduce climate effects, improving communal abilities to combat environmental challenges, and in creating and harnessing resources that societies will need to adapt and thrive in a climate strained, fast-changing world.

“To get there ahead of time we need to create awareness among the local communities on what climate change is and its personal impacts to them. Once local communities are clear on threats posed by climate change and the interventions, we will be able to move together in developing various innovations to tackle the problems,” she believes.

Further, she urges the youth to utilise local, affordable resources to combat climate change as a way of creating a new job opportunities and investments.

Should Cynthia happen to mingle with women parliamentarians interested in climate change debate, both at the national and county assemblies, it would be her opportune moment to ask them to root for the grassroots women through making laws that “collectively secure our country from climate change negative impact”.

“The grassroots woman is already feeling the heat of the day-to-day resource shortages such as water and fuel, and intervening for her will meet her needs halfway. Also, when resource conflicts arise between communities, it is the woman who bears the burden of a family and a society in crisis,” she reasons.

Cynthia further explains that, climate change issues are region-specific, dictating each county’s level of vulnerability. Each county assembly should have easily implementable policies to address its specific needs without compromising the national goals, she explains.

After attaining the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education from Kenya High School in 2010, Cynthia enrolled for a degree in urban and regional planning at the University of Nairobi in 2011, later undertaking her masters in climate change adaptation in 2017.

“I love art and design as a hobby, so when my high school teacher of English Ms Oredi, advised me to chose a course in urban and regional planning, I jumped right into it. Although I had wished to study either architecture or art and design, urban planning was still ideal for me as it is design-related,” she says.

When Cynthia is not researching on climate matters, she would be travelling for leisure or engaging in drawing and painting.