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Researching impacts of El Nino at the Kenyan Coast

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Coral bleaching is related to El Nino – photo from http://coralreefs.blogs.rice.edu/2016/02/18/reefs-off-the-kenyan-coast-in-danger/

Our SPACES project has received a supplementary grant to work alongside another ESPA-funded project – CESEA  – in identifying how people and ecosystems in southern Kenya have been affected by this year’s El Nino event. In April communities in Vanga, one of our study sites, are recovering from a catastrophic flood. The Floodlines website reports that five villages were cut off as a result of severe rainfall from cyclone Fantala which was widely report in national media (see Daily Nation report here). Although we don’t know whether this terrible event is directly caused by El Nino, it is typical of the consequences of extreme weather events normally associated with El Nino.

El Nino – or more correctly El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) – is a the periodic climate phenomenon associated with anomalies in sea surface temperatures and climate variability. There is a nice video explanation on the Met Office website here.

El Nino has had major impacts in Kenya in the past. During the 1997-98 episode, more than 300,000 families in Kenya were directly affected, and total estimated losses for the agriculture, transport and communication, and water resource sectors amounted to US$915 million. There were also major impacts on coastal ecosystems. These included heavy sedimentation events leading to mangrove death and widespread coral bleaching, with Kenyan corals suffered between 50-80% mortality making them amongst the most affected in the world.

Our research hopes to identify the impact pathways for El Nino, the sources of resilience in communities, and whether people had been alerted and were able to  respond to early warnings of the 2016 El Nino. Matt Fortnam joins our team at University of Exeter for this work, bringing lots of rich expertise and experience of working on resilience and change in response to different shocks and stressors. 

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