Meet Susan Gichuna, Sustainable Urban Development Expert and Mawazo Scholar

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Investigating the Impact of Climate Change on Nairobi’s Urban Commuters

By Susan Gichuna

Whenever it rains in Nairobi, chaos erupts: roads get flooded, traffic jams suddenly set in, bus fares hike and pedestrians scamper for shelter. This is due to the various challenges crippling the Nairobi’s transport sector including, inadequate and poorly maintained infrastructure, poor drainage systems, and inefficiency in the public transport system. Extreme weather conditions such as floods, heat waves, unpredictable rainfall patterns and extremely low temperatures, among others, are associated with climate change and variability. Such impacts worsen the existing challenges in the transport sector. Globally, extreme weather events are already being experienced. Last year, Kenya experienced storms and “above-normal rainfall”, as described by the Kenya Meteorological Department, during the long rains season which lasted from early March to late May . During this season, most stations across the country recorded the highest amounts of rain since the 1950s.

The unusually high rainfall had a major effect on commuting. Heavy traffic jams culminated in long travel hours and high transport costs, with many fatalities recorded as pedestrians and vehicles were swept away by the raging floods.  It also had major impacts on transport infrastructure, both in urban and rural areas, where dilapidated bridges washed away, roads were cut off and others blocked by mudslides. The cost implications for such damages were high prompting the Ministry of Transport in Kenya to allocate about $187 million for road repairs of which, Nairobi was allocated about $33 million.The long rains had been preceded by heat waves early in the year.

There is an urgent need, therefore, to establish strategies for reducing the risks associated with climate change in every aspect of our economy.  My research seeks to shed light on how weather and climate variability affects the travel behaviour of commuters in Nairobi and the various ways they use to cope with the impacts. First, I will analyse how climate impacts such as frequent floods and high temperatures affect urban commuters.

Secondly, I will analyse the travel behaviour responses of urban commuters to the impacts of weather and climate variability in terms of the choice of mode of transport, travel time schedules, route and trip choices. The study will establish weather and climate variability patterns in Nairobi using meteorological data and analyze how urban commuters in Nairobi adapt their travel behaviour to these patterns. Research shows that sociodemographic variables such as age, gender, education, income level and ownership of transport modes, shape attitudes, values and perceptions which consequently influence travel behaviour responses.

This study will conduct a survey to collect data on socio demographic variables of commuters in Nairobi and analyse their influence on travel behaviour responses. This is important since weather and climate variability impacts may lead to changes in the use of transportation. For example, it may influence the extent of walking, cycling, transit ridership and private car use. Issues such as traffic congestion, emissions, air pollution, road and traffic safety are directly linked to travel behaviour.

The findings of this study will be useful in contributing to knowledge on the impacts of climate change on urban transport. Further, the findings will inform future urban transport policy and planning to enhance climate resilience of urban transport and commuters in Kenya. It will also help identify possible climate change adaptation strategies for the transport sector in urban areas. Lastly, it will create awareness among commuters on the impacts of weather and climate variability on urban transport and how best they can cope with the impacts. 


Susan Gichuna is a researcher on Climate Change and Adaptation, and Sustainable Urban Development. She is a Ph.D. student at the Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation at the University of Nairobi.