Resources & Climate
Issue Brief

CORVI Risk Profile: Mombasa, Kenya

A holistic city-based assessment of the climate risks facing Mombasa, Kenya.
Part of the CORVI Project
By Jack Stuart  ·  Sally Yozell  ·  Dr. Valentine Ochanda  ·  Tracy Rouleau  ·  Dr. Victor Indasi  ·  Kaitlyn Lombardo

As risks from climate change to coastal cities continue to increase, governments, public and private investors, and the insurance industry need targeted risk information to prioritize action and build resilience where it matters most.

In response, the Stimson Center developed the Climate and Ocean Risk Vulnerability Index (CORVI). CORVI is a decision support tool which compares a diverse range of ecological, financial, and political risks across 10 categories and nearly 100 indicators to produce a holistic coastal city risk profile. Each indicator and category are scored using a 1-10 risk scale relative to other cities in the region, providing a simple reference point for decision makers looking to prioritize climate action and resilience investment.

This issue brief presents the CORVI Risk Profile for Mombasa, Kenya. The profile combines empirical data, expert interviews, surveys, and desk research to analyze how climate and ocean risks are impacting the city. This information is used to develop detailed priority recommendations for Mombasa to reduce its climate vulnerabilities and work to build a sustainable future.

For more information on the CORVI methodology, please see the CORVI East Africa report.

This risk profile was produced in collaboration with the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) and Coastal and Marine Resource Development (COMRED) .

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Centered on an island and home to the largest international seaport in East Africa, Mombasa is critical to the economic security of Kenya and landlocked nations in East and Central Africa. Home to 1.2 million people, it is Kenya’s second-largest city.1Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, National Population and Housing Census, 2019, However, over the past 20 years, the population of Mombasa has almost doubled, posing challenges to urban planning and the natural environment that are being exacerbated by climate change.2Valentine Ochanda and D. K. Irurah, “Shoreline Integrated SLR Impact Prediction in Mombasa and Lamu Islands in Kenya,” paper presented at the CLIVAR Open Science Conference FIO/SOA, Qingdao, China, 2016, To fully capture how climate change is interacting with urbanization and environmental challenges in Mombasa, the geographic area of the risk profile includes Mombasa Island, the mainland areas of the city, and the immediate urban coastline areas in the neighboring counties of Kilifi and Kwale.

Empirical data and 61 experts’ surveys incorporated into the Mombasa CORVI risk profile are displayed across 10 categories and 94 indicators. These scores are supplemented with information about resilience planning already underway and 33 interviews from experts in Mombasa.3For a full list of organization interviews and data sources, please see the appendix.

Summary Findings

The CORVI analysis shows significant vulnerability under financial risk, followed by political and ecological threats, respectively. These risks are tied to key themes. The two highest category scores—Major Industries (7.12) and Stability (6.73)—reflect high reliance and employment in key blue economy industries, closely followed by the risks posed by unplanned urbanization under Social/Demographics (5.95) and the ocean-related risks to the coastline and freshwater resources under Water/Geology (5.93). Other issues identified include flooding and risks to ecosystems, which underpin the tourism and fishery sectors.

The blue economy in Mombasa is critical to the economic prosperity of the city and the wider East African region. However, climate and ocean risks threaten the tourism, shipping, and fisheries industries. While Mombasa is relatively safe from cyclones, flooding from erratic rainfall and sea-level rise is a major problem.

Flood risk is exacerbated by Mombasa’s unique geography, with much of the city’s infrastructure, major industries, and poorer neighborhoods located in low-lying areas. Coastal erosion also poses significant risks to the tourism sector, with high costs both to the shoreline hotels and the industry workers who live in flood-prone areas. Fast-paced urbanization has also exacerbated infrastructure and housing deficits, which, if left unaddressed, could impede the ability of the city to build climate resilience.

Moreover, despite recent successes in limiting waste, pollution from key sectors and urban households continues to harm the marine environment. The degradation of Mombasa’s natural environment has contributed to a decline in the health of nearshore fisheries and the destabilization of the ocean ecosystem, which underpins the blue economy. These challenges are compounded by inadequate sewage and solid waste infrastructure in the city.

Kenya is a leader among African nations in prioritizing action to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts and build a sustainable blue economy. However, experts highlighted risks related to disjointed coordination between the national and county government, a lack of coordination between departments at the country level, and inadequate integration of urban and marine planning throughout the research process. Given its statutory and regulatory powers, the Mombasa County Executive is well placed to overcome these silos and provide the necessary leadership on climate action. By strengthening social and economic resilience and incorporating urban risks into marine planning, Mombasa can mitigate the threat posed by climate and ocean risks and build a resilient and sustainable future.

A lack of integrated planning and financial constraints impede these efforts. Based on an analysis of the CORVI risk scores and expert interviews, three priority areas for action are identified.

  • Integrate urban resilience into coastal and marine spatial planning. Expanding the role of the Mombasa County Executive in nationally led integrated coastal zone management activities is critical for ensuring that future projects and actions meet the urban and ocean needs of Mombasa City. Similarly, to ensure that urban environmental risks are incorporated into ocean planning, it is essential that Mombasa City planners be included in marine spatial planning activities.
  • Increase investment to build resilience to climate risks across key sectors, including tourism, shipping, and fishing. The marine environment underpins the blue economy. Specific actions include financing efforts to reduce pollution from ship ballast and raw material processing at Mombasa, encouraging ecotourism as an entry point to further sustainable ocean management, and expanding the capacity of Beach Management Units to provide training to avoid unsustainable fishing practices. Finally, the integration of green/blue infrastructure should be increased to protect key sectors from climate change.
  • Improve urban planning by investing in climate-smart infrastructure and housing in vulnerable neighborhoods. To upgrade informal housing, successful joint partnerships between the Mombasa County Governance and the private sector should be expanded. These efforts should also be augmented with efforts to improve waste management. Small-scale efforts, including requiring biodigesters in new homes, should also accompanied by large-scale efforts to improve and expand sewage facilities.

With these measures, Mombasa can drive financial resources and build climate resilience to ensure a safe and sustainable future.

Ecological Risk

As a result of Mombasa’s unique urban geography, ecological risks are concentrated in the Geology/Water category. Other categories scored medium risk, with high levels of mangrove, coral, and seagrass bed coverage contributing to several low risk indicator scores in the Ecosystems category. In contrast, high risk indicator scores highlight the importance of coastal ecosystems to the city’s tourism and fishing industries, as well as the dangers posed by coastal flooding.

  • In the GEOLOGY/WATER category (expert weighted avg 5.93), high and medium-high risk scores for coastal erosion (8.70), water quality (6.76), and sea-level rise (6.00) demonstrate the threat posed by ocean risks to the urban center.
  • In the ECOSYSTEMS category (expert weighted avg 4.68), high and medium-high risk scores highlight the declining health of Mombasa’s mangroves (8.20), as well as their importance for protecting economic activity (6.49). While seagrass bed (2.00), coral reef (1.00), and mangrove (1.00) coverage scored as low risk, medium-high scores for the health of existing coral reefs (6.47) and seagrass beds (6.16) underline the dangers posed by climate change and pollution to the ocean and coastal environment.
  • The FISHERIES category (expert weighted avg 4.64) shows medium-high risk scores for the number of access agreements with foreign nations (6.67) and the status of nearshore fish stocks (5.60), and the number of fisheries certified as sustainable (5.92).
  • Although the CLIMATE category (expert weighted avg 4.57) scored the lowest under ecological risk, medium-high indicator scores for flood events (7.25), droughts (5.90), vector-borne diseases (5.75), and heavy rainfall (5.32) showcase significant hazards that, if left unaddressed, could degrade the resilience of city residents.

The ecological risk analysis shows that Mombasa’s vulnerability is spread across all four categories. Most significant are the compounding effects of sea-level rise (6.00), coastal erosion (8.70), and the health of existing mangroves (8.20). Thirty-two percent of Mombasa City is located within the low-lying coastal zone. As coastal erosion continues, Mombasa’s highly developed coastal infrastructure will also sustain significant damage and financial losses.

Estimates suggest that a 0.3-meter rise in sea level could submerge 17 percent of Mombasa City. This would result in devastating and costly consequences for the city’s inhabitants (particularly those living in informal settlements), as well as harming the tourism industry and key infrastructure.4David Obura, “Mombasa: Stepping Stones to a Climate-Resilient Future?” South African Institute of International Affairs Policy Insights 89 (July 2020), Studies predict the economic cost of sea-level rise to be between $31 million and $313 million per year by 2050.5C. B. Awuor, V. A. Orindi, and A. O. Adwera, “Climate Change and Coastal Cities: The Case of Mombasa, Kenya,” Environment and Urbanization 20, no. 1 (April 2008): 231–242, accessed June 21, 2021, Saltwater intrusion in estuaries and freshwater aquifers (5.94) is another negative consequence of sea-level rise. This is also reflected in the medium-high risk score for water quality (6.76). In response to freshwater challenges, borehole usage has proliferated in Mombasa as a means to extract water. This temporary solution has led to environmental challenges, including declining water tables and saltwater intrusion.6Dorcas Mtheu Musling, Michael Mbindyo Munywoki, and Benjamin Musyimi Musingi, “Evaluation of Sea-Water Intrusion in Coastal Aquifers Using both Numerical Methods and Causal Research: A Case Study of Mombasa, Kenya,” Engineering 13, no. 7 (July 2021). Efforts are underway to procure additional water sources in adjacent counties.7Interview with representative from Institute of Climate Change and Adaptation, University of Nairobi, April 2021.

Despite the climate category’s comparatively low risk score, climate indicators also reflect the growing threat posed by climate hazards to Mombasa. This includes medium-high risk scores for the number of floods (7.25), droughts (5.90), and heavy rainfall days (5.75). Climate change and rapid urbanization to accommodate Mombasa’s expanding population are also straining ecosystems that underpin the blue economy and protect urban areas on the outskirts of the city.8Interview with representative from the Kenya Association of Hotel Keeps and Caterers, June 2021. Mangrove coverage scored as low risk (1.00) in the CORVI assessment. However, this reflects national mangrove coverage; mangrove losses have been higher in coastal urban areas like Mombasa than in coastal rural areas like Gazi Bay.9Interview with representative from the Kenya Association of Hotel Keeps and Caterers, June 2021. Mangroves in and around Mombasa declined by approximately 80 percent from 2007 to 2017, particularly in Tudor Creek, according to government estimates.10Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, and Regional Development Authorities, Republic of Kenya, “National Mangrove Ecosystem Management Plan, Summary for Policy Makers 2017-2027,” Government of Kenya, Nairobi, 2017, Additionally, Mombasa’s reefs are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts, pollution, and dredging. These risks are reflected in high and medium-high risk scores for the health of existing mangroves (8.2), coral reefs (6.47), and seagrass beds (6.16).11Interview with representative from the Institute of Climate Change and Adaptation, University of Nairobi, April 2021.

Nyali Beach in Mombasa. Source: Wikimedia Commons

While not a specific indicator, dredging was noted by several experts as important to understanding climate risk and resilience in Mombasa.12Interview with representative from the United States Department of State, October 2020. As a result of the expansion of Mombasa Port, two major dredging operations have been conducted over the past five years. While bringing economic benefits, dredging has also had negative repercussions to the marine environment and other sectors. For example, the dredging waste disposal process has negatively impacted local coral reefs and fish populations.13Interview with representative from the Kenya Association of Hotel Keeps and Caterers, June 2021. In addition to its significant environmental impact, dredging operations have undermined the tourism sector, which relies on a healthy, pristine ocean as a key natural resource.14Interview with representative from the Kenya Association of Hotel Keeps and Caterers, June 2021. Understanding the consequences of dredging to other climate risks is important to the long-term health and resilience of the city. 

Finally, fisheries serve as an important food source in Kenya’s coastal regions, supporting the livelihood of many residents within Mombasa. This is reflected in the medium-high fish consumption indicator (5.08). However, declining marine ecosystems have had secondary impacts on the health of nearshore fish stocks (5.60).15USAID, Kenya Climate Risk Profile, Kenya, 2018, These impacts are compounded by a growing demand for seafood, as well as unemployment and poverty that can cause people to turn to the sea as a supplemental source of food and income. This growing demand is increasing pressure on coastal Beach Management Units (BMUs), community organizations that bring together fishers, traders, and boat owners, with the Director of Fisheries to monitor and regulate nearshore fish stocks in Kenya.16Sebastian Juma Menza and Daniel Mange, “Analysing the Challenges Faced by Beach Management Units in Managing Fisheries Stock in Mombasa County, Kenya,” International Academic Journal of Social Science and Education 2, no. 2 (August 2020): 137–165. However, in some cases new fisherfolk have had difficulty joining BMUs, leading to fisheries’ noncompliance and engagement in illegal fishing practices.17Interview with representative from Blue Ventures, May 2021

Concerns over the high number of fisheries access agreements with foreign nations (6.67) also reflect growing concern about the future sustainability of Kenya’s fish stocks. However, low and medium risk scores for unreported catch (2.00) and the capacity of enforcement institutions (4.64) suggest that experts are nonetheless confident in the ability of the government to monitor foreign fishing and protect national fish stocks.

Financial Risk

Like many other coastal cities, Mombasa is heavily dependent upon key blue economy sectors such as shipping, fishing, and tourism for its economic security. Climate risks to these industries, along with corresponding impacts to the economic vulnerability of city residents, mean that Mombasa may incur significant losses if such vulnerabilities are not addressed.

  • As the highest-scoring category in the risk profile, MAJOR INDUSTRIES (expert weighted avg 7.12) highlight the significant expansion of tourism lodging types (8.31), as well as the importance of agriculture (8.28), port and shipping industries (7.57), and tourism (7.08) to the economic security of Mombasa.
  • The ECONOMICS category (expert weighted avg 5.75) shows the importance of Mombasa to the economic output of Kenya (8.75). However, it also highlights the vulnerability of city residents to potential shocks, with high risk scores in the informal economy (9.10), income inequality (8.90), and the urban unemployment rate (8.35).
  • The INFRASTRUCTURE category (expert weighted avg 4.90) scored lower than Major Industries and Economics, with medium risk scores for port (3.47), airport (3.55), and road (3.92) resiliency. However, high and medium-high risk scores across the level of shoreline development (7.95), informal settlements (7.37), and commercial infrastructure damage from extreme weather events (6.70) underline compounding risks to both city residents and critical industries.

Mombasa’s economy is highly dependent on tourism and shipping. The city’s two major harbors, Kilindini Harbour and Old Port, serve as the largest seaport in Eastern Africa and handle trade for Kenya and its landlocked East and Central African neighbors such as Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. Kenya’s import-export industry accounts for 33 percent of its national GDP, with Mombasa’s ports comprising the largest portion of the country’s shipping industry.18World Integrated Trade Solution, Kenya Trade Statistics, accessed August 16, 2021, The importance of Mombasa‘s port and shipping industry is reflected in its high risk score (7.57), as any disruption would severely impact the city’s economic security. However, a lower risk score (3.47) for port resilience indicates that the port is relatively safe from climate and ocean risks. This was confirmed in interviews, which noted several projects to climate-proof the port. Efforts have included building a three-kilowatt solar power plant and installing eco-terracing in areas of the port vulnerable to soil erosion.19International Harbour Masters Association, Kenya Ports Authority to Consider Shore Power in Mombasa and Lamu, last modified October 22, 2019, accessed August 16, 2021, However, waste and pollution from ships and the offloading of raw materials used in cement production remain a crucial challenge.20Interview with representatives from Kenya Port Authority and Port Management Association of Eastern and Southern Africa, May 2021. A lack of ballast water receptors has also led to the discharge of foreign water into the port, increasing the likelihood of introducing invasive species (as reflected in the invasive species indicator: 5.34).

Mombasa Port. Source: Make it Kenya Photo / Stuart Price (Flickr).

Tourism is a crucial sector for Mombasa, with 65 percent of Kenya’s tourists visiting the country’s coastal region. From key historical and heritage sites—such as the Vasco Da Gama Pillar, the ruin of Gedi, and the Fort Jesus—to natural spaces—including coastal beaches, rainforests, and marine parks—Mombasa serves as an important tourist destination. The tourism industry has also expanded in recent years, both in Mombasa City and throughout the neighboring counties of Kwale and Kilifi. The growing importance of the sector is reflected in a high risk score for diversity of lodging types (a measure of tourism development) (8.31) and percent of the national economy based in the tourism sector (7.08).

Various climate risks, including rising temperatures, heavy rainfall, flooding, and coastal erosion, pose a significant threat to Mombasa’s tourist facilities and beaches. In response, efforts to build resilience are underway, but vary significantly. For example, hotels in Swahili Beach have resorted to importing sand to rebuild beaches. However, these efforts are costly, ad hoc, and rarely integrated into long-term resilience planning.21Interview with representative from the Kenya Association of Hotel Keeps and Caterers, June 2021. In addition, although the tourism sector primarily operates in the dry season, tourists have previously had to be rescued from flooding during the rainy season.22Interview with representative from the Kenya Association of Hotel Keeps and Caterers, June 2021.

Risks to ecosystems and fisheries, outlined in the ecological section, also negatively impact the tourist sector, as the natural ocean environment is a key tourist attraction. Climate risks to other economic sectors also impact the tourism sector. For example, food price spikes resulting from climate impacts to the agricultural sector (8.28) have led to upward pressure on wages as the cost of living increases.23Interview with representative from the Kenya Association of Hotel Keeps and Caterers, June 2021.

Risks to these major industries have corresponding impacts on the urban population, and particularly the urban poor, who face outsized financial risks as a result of climate change.24Caroline Moser, Andrew Norton, Alfredo Stein, and Sophia Georgieva, “Pro-Poor Adapation to Climate Change in Urban Centers,” Social Development Department Report No. 54947-GLB (June 2010), Relatively low poverty levels at the national level (1.0), combined with high urban poverty scores (8.35), suggest that much of Kenya’s poverty is concentrated in cities. In Mombasa, income inequality is considered a significant issue, with an 8.90 risk score, reflecting recent studies showing that 20 percent of Mombasa’s residents hold 78 percent of the city’s wealth.25“Nairobi and Mombasa Among the Most Unequal Cities in the World with a Fifth of the Population Owning More than Three Quarter of the Wealth,” PulseLive, last modified March 27, 2018, accessed July 15, 2021.

The significant and growing income disparity has important implications for the resilience of the urban population of Mombasa. Poorer residents live in the city’s periphery, which often lacks access to basic services and is particularly susceptible to climate impacts such as flooding. These risks are reflected in numerous indicators across the Economic and Infrastructure categories. For example, high levels of urban unemployment (8.35), informal economy (9.10), unplanned settlement construction (7.37), and percent of low income housing in flood zones (5.30) all exacerbate the vulnerability of Mombasa’s poorest to cope with and build resilience to climate risks.

Proportion of wastewater safely treated (5.25) and solid waste management (5.15) both scored as medium-high risk. This shows that experts surveyed indicated that improvements are needed to Mombasa’s waste management infrastructure, while also noting that Mombasa is performing better than many other coastal cities in East Africa. However, expert interviews also highlighted that inadequate waste infrastructure intersects and exacerbates climate risk in Mombasa.26Separate Interviews with representatives from the Department of Environment, Waste Management, and Energy, County Government of Mombasa, June 2021, and with representative from the Department of Environmental Sciences, Machakos University, May 2021. Mombasa generates approximately 879 tons of waste each day, but only 46 percent of that waste is collected.27Tilahun Haregu, Abdhalah Ziraba, Isabella Aboderin, Dickson Amugsi, Kanyiva Muindi, and Blessing Mberu, “An Assessment of the Evolution of Kenya’s Solid Waste Management Policies and Their Implementation in Nairobi and Mombasa: Analysis of Policies and Practices,” Environment and Urbanization 29, no. 2 (2017): 515–532. Inadequate solid waste management has led to the frequent dumping of garbage along roads, which blocks drainage systems and increases the risk of flooding. Leakages are particularly common in Mombasa’s Tudor district, where cholera outbreaks have resulted from drainage seepage polluting residents’ water sources. In other cases, stagnant water at these dumping sites attracts mosquitoes and leads to increased malaria incidences, which disproportionately affect children, pregnant women, and the elderly. In addition, pollution into rivers and the ocean impacts the natural environment and contributes to declining ecosystem health, as noted in the ecological analysis section.

The CORVI analysis also highlights infrastructure risks. Due to its geography and significant coastal development (7.95), Mombasa is exposed to current and future climate risks. For example, medium-high risk scores for commercial infrastructure damage from extreme weather events (6.70) reflect studies showing that as much as $4.8 billion worth of Mombasa’s coastal assets could be exposed to flooding and inundation by 2050.28USAID, Kenya Climate Risk Profile, July 2018, 3, Conversely, low risk scores for electrical grid (3.92), road (3.92), and airport (3.55) resilience suggest that climate risks are less prevalent with these forms of infrastructure. This was confirmed in interviews noting that the construction of new electrical transmission lines to Mombasa increases overall capacity. In addition, after flooding impacted transmission lines between Ruba and Lamu north of Mombasa, new transmission lines on the coast are being constructed on higher ground. However, a lack of data and technical expertise has limited efforts to integrate future climate impacts into electrical grid resilience planning.29Interview with representatives from Kenya Electricity Transmission Company Limited, June 2021.

Finally, high levels of renewable energy in Kenya (3.50) have reduced the country’s reliance on vulnerable energy sources, such as oil imports. In Mombasa itself, solar power is growing in popularity, with increasing numbers of installations on public facilities and buildings. Interviews also highlighted the potential for renewable power to mitigate climate risks by decentralizing the power grid through the upscaling of rooftop solar. This will provide the added benefit of reducing reliance on key substations.30Interview with representatives from Kenya Renewable Energy Association, June 2021.

Political Risk

Given its rapid expansion, Mombasa has sought to build resilience to climate risks. However, a lack of institutional and technical capacity has been a significant barrier to effective development and the implementation of a climate resilience strategy. CORVI analysis also highlights underlying social and economic factors, including social tension, high employment in vulnerable economic sectors, and significant urbanization, which, if left unaddressed, could impede efforts to build resilience to climate change.

  • The STABILITY category (expert weighted avg 6.73) shows high risk scores in social tension (8.30) and employment in ports and shipping (7.55), and medium risk scores across other vital sectors.
  • In the SOCIAL/DEMOGRAPHICS category (expert weighted avg 5.95), urbanization is a key risk theme, with high and medium-high risk scores focusing on the national population (8.69), the urbanization rate (7.75), and urban population density (7.25).
  • In the GOVERNANCE category (expert weighted avg 5.16), the high and medium-high risk scores show risk related to investment in climate resiliency development projects (6.99), government transparency (6.13), and access to healthcare (5.62).

Compared to other coastal cities in East Africa, Mombasa’s labor force is highly dependent on the blue economy for its economic security. While these sectors—including ports and shipping, tourism, and artisanal and commercial fishing—are diverse, they are all vulnerable to climate risks. As outlined in the financial section, flooding, coastal erosion, and rising temperatures all pose direct risks to these sectors, as well as to the environmental, economic, and social systems that support and rely on them. These risks are reflected in a high risk score for percent of people employed in the port and shipping industries (7.55) and medium risk scores for employment in tourism (7.00), artisanal and subsistence fishing (6.27), and commercial fishing (6.13).

High scores for social tension (8.30) and civil unrest (7.55) reflect the fact that, relative to other coastal cities in East Africa, Mombasa experiences more cases of instability. Combined with a perceived pack of government transparency (6.13), this may contribute to electoral grievances, ethnic divisions, and political instability in Kenya.31Kathleen Klaus, Political Violence in Kenya: Land, Elections, and Claim-Making (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020). Kenya has experienced other challenges, including corruption and misuse of public resources.32K. R. Hope, “Corruption in Kenya,” in Corruption and Governance in Africa (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), As a result, public trust in government is low. According to a 2016 Pew Research poll, 91 percent of respondents felt that government corruption is a problem in Kenya, and 58 percent believed that the government is run for the benefit of a few groups of people.33Pew Research Center, Kenyans Worried about Economy and Corruption, but Optimistic for the Future, last modified November 14, 2016, accessed August 16, 2016, Such risks could also have secondary impacts on the economic security of Mombasa. The tourism sector has previously suffered from other external shocks, including unrest in the 1990s and terrorism in 2015, which reduced demand. Although the industry has proven to be resilient to these shocks, the increasing severity and likelihood of climate impacts, including flooding and damage to coral reefs, could reduce the number of tourists and increase costs to the industry.34Interview with representative from the Kenya Association of Hotel Keeps and Caterers, June 2021.

Urbanization is also impacting climate and ocean risks in Mombasa. Kenya is undergoing rapid urbanization, as many Kenyans are moving from rural to urban centers searching for jobs and more economic opportunities. With an annual growth rate of 3.8 percent per year, Mombasa’s population has nearly doubled over the past 20 years.35Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, National Population and Housing Census, 2019, Approximately 65 percent of the population reside in informal settlements, which are likely to increase as a result of rural migration and the development of Special Economic Zones in the city.36UN-Habitat, “UN-Habitat Support to Sustainable Urban Development in Kenya,” Report on Capacity Building for Community Leaders, Vol. 4, 2016, Many of the larger informal settlements are located next to the city’s major industries, including Kilindini Port.

Street in downtown Mombasa. Source: Shutterstock.

Vulnerabilities surrounding Mombasa’s rapid urbanization are evident in the social/demographics category. High risk scores for urbanization rate (7.75), urban population density (7.25), and percent of the population below the age of 30 (7.07), and a medium-high risk score for the dependency ratio (6.45), all highlight a fast-growing young population. However, this growth has, in many cases, outpaced infrastructure development. A shortage of affordable housing continues to be a significant issue in Mombasa, with an annual housing deficit of 380,000 units in 2012.37UN Habitat, “Financing for Resilient and Green Urban Solutions in Mombasa, Kenya,” 2020. As Mombasa’s population continues to grow, a more significant number of low- and middle-income migrants are moving into informal settlements, located in the city outskirts. This vulnerability is connected to risk scores in the Economics and Infrastructure categories in the financial section and highlights the vulnerability of poorer residents to climate risks such as flooding.

Despite these challenges, lower risk scores for its national adaptation plan (3.99), civil society participation (3.63), and rule of law (4.37) indicate confidence in the Mombasa Country Executive and the National Government of Kenya to invest in climate adaptation. Kenya has engaged in notable national climate planning activities and worked with various international partners, including the World Bank and the International Climate Fund, to begin to address its climate vulnerabilities. However, numerous interviews noted that current efforts have been inadequate,38Separate interviews with representative from Coastal Oceans Research and Development—Indian Ocean, May 2020; County Government of Mombasa, Department of Environment, Waste Management, and Energy, March 2021; and Kenya Association of Hotel and Caterers, May 2021. as reflected in the medium-high risk score for investment in climate resiliency projects (6.99).

The Status of Resilience Planning in Mombasa

Resilience planning in Mombasa is dependent on both national and county-level action. The national government of Kenya is an established leader in climate change action. Since its Initial National Communication on Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Policy in 2002, Kenya has developed several measures to mainstream climate adaptation into national and subnational policy. This work culminated in the 2013-2017 National Climate Change Action Plan, which emphasized climate adaptation and the need to mainstream the integration of climate change into development planning. In 2016, the government implemented the Climate Change Act, which established the Climate Change Directorate at the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MENR) and the Climate Change Council to design and implement climate action. The Act also established a 2015-2030 National Climate Change Adaptation Plan.39Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, “Climate Change Act, 2016,” last modified 2016, accessed July 11, 2021.

Despite these broad efforts, the MENR’s power, relative to other ministries, remains relatively limited. As a result, its capacity to convene, coordinate, and lead climate change efforts is often undermined.40Jo-Ellen Parry, “Review of Current and Planned Adaptation Action in Kenya,” CARIAA Working Paper #16, International Development Research Centre, 2016, In addition, experts noted that data collection and action plans relating to climate change are conducted through a sector-led approach at the national level.41Interview with representatives from the Climate Change Directorate, Ministry of Environment and Nature Resources, Government of Kenya, July 2021. While this process is inclusive, a sector-by-sector approach could limit understanding of interlocking and systemic climate risks.

Compared to other coastal cities in East Africa, the Mombasa Country Government has significant power to design and enact resilience planning and projects. This is due to the decentralization process in Kenya. Passed under the new constitution in 2010 and part of Kenya’s Vision 2030 agenda, many planning processes have been delegated to the county level. Counties have significant powers under devolution, responsible for the majority of city planning and delivery beyond national strategic projects.

Mombasa County has made harnessing the blue economy a central pillar of its economic plan and has established a new Blue Economy Unit to coordinate activities across different departments. This reflects national prioritization of the blue economy, with the State Department of the Blue Economy within the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Livestock, and Co-operatives. Mombasa Country is also currently developing a climate change policy and action plan to inform and harmonize future climate resilience projects, with support from domestic and international funders.42Interview with representatives from the Mombasa County Executive, Department of Environment, Waste Management, and Energy and the Department of Physical Planning, March 2021. However, data gaps and issue silos inhibit this process.43Interview with representatives from the Mombasa County Executive, Department of Environment, Waste Management, and Energy and the Department of Physical Planning, March 2021. County governments are still largely dependent on financial transfers from Kenya’s central government. This has led to integration and implementation challenges, both between the national and county governments and between county-level departments.

Over the past decade, the city of Mombasa partnered on a range of projects—funded by both the national government and international donors—to develop and implement climate resilience planning. For example, Kenya is currently working with the World Bank to implement the Coastal Region Water Security and Climate Resilience Project, a $200 million project focused on improving water access, supply, and sanitation in Mombasa County and Kwale County.44Parry, “Review of Current and Planned Adaptation Action in Kenya.” Kenya has also partnered with the World Bank on “The Water Security and Climate Resilience for Kenya Project,” which seeks to provide better access to irrigated water, improve flood control in the Nzoia watershed, enhance flood early warning systems, and strengthen the institutional capacity of the Mombasa Water and Sanitation Company.45Parry, “Review of Current and Planned Adaptation Action in Kenya.” Additionally, the United Kingdom’s International Climate Fund is funding an infrastructure-improvement program in Mombasa to enhance the sustainability of Mombasa’s port, and Mombasa County has developed a Long-Term National Low Carbon Resilient Development Pathway.46Parry, “Review of Current and Planned Adaptation Action in Kenya.” Despite these efforts, however, interviews noted the need for more detailed data on multidimensional climate impacts to better target investments from international donors.47Interview with representative from the County Government of Mombasa, Department of Environment, Waste Management, and Energy, March 2021.

Given Mombasa’s fast-paced urbanization and reliance on the blue economy, integrating climate and ocean risks into urban and marine planning is critical. In the past, country master plans have focused only on terrestrial planning, and incorporating marine aspects into this process continues to be a key challenge. Historically, planning in Kenya has been undertaken for terrestrial spaces, with the national spatial plan in 2016/17 criticized for not adequately integrating marine issues and failing to incorporate marine spatial planning frameworks.48Interview with representative from the World Wildlife Fund, Kenya, June 2021. In response, the national government of Kenya has enacted a maritime spatial planning exercise and the “Go Blue” Program, funded by the European Union in partnership with UN-Habitat and the UN Environment Program. Go Blue is working with Kenya’s coastal counties to bridge gaps and improve land to sea planning.49Go Blue, accessed September 13, 2021,

Priority Recommendations to Build Resilience

Despite significant progress, Mombasa City must contend with growing climate risks. Economic reliance on key blue economy sectors, fast-paced urbanization, the vulnerability of poorer residents, and risks to marine ecosystems were all prominent issues in the CORVI risk profile. Experts also highlighted risks related to disjointed coordination between the national and county government, a lack of coordination between departments at the country level, and inadequate integration of urban and marine planning throughout the research process. 

Given its statutory and regulatory powers, the Mombasa County Executive is well placed to overcome these siloes and provide the necessary leadership on climate action. With support from the national government ministries and international partners, the Mombasa County Executive is well placed to overcome and address these silos and provide necessary leadership on climate change, develop and build integrated plans, and galvanize action necessary to build a more resilient and sustainable city. By strengthening social and economic resilience and incorporating urban risks into marine planning, Mombasa can mitigate the threat posed by climate and ocean risks and build a resilient and sustainable future.

Integrate urban climate resilience issues into coastal and marine spatial planning

The need for the county and national government of Kenya to develop spatial planning methods that transcend these governance and land-seascape boundaries was noted in numerous interviews. Connections between the marine environment and the resilience of Mombasa are prominent throughout the risk profile, including the impact of terrestrial stressors on the marine environment, the extent to which ocean risks—such as coastal erosion—pose risks for Mombasa, and the economic, social, and cultural benefits Mombasa derives from the ocean.

The government of Kenya is embarking on a marine spatial plan over the next two years. Experts noted that a dialogue with city planners from coastal counties (including Mombasa) has started, and that getting land planners to engage in this process is key.50Interview with representative from the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, January 2021. However, integrated coastal zone management exercises have been primarily undertaken by national-level ministries and agencies. Expanding the role of the Mombasa County Government in this process is crucial for ensuring that the plan meets the urban and marine needs of Mombasa City.

Expand efforts to reduce climate risks and build sustainable blue economy sectors

Major Industries is the highest-scoring risk category in the assessment, reflecting the significance, and vulnerability, of these sectors. Given the impact of the blue economy on the marine environment and the risks posed by climate and ocean risks, decision-makers need to embrace a multidimensional approach that accounts for the full range of Mombasa’s climate risks.

CORVI analysis highlights the threat posed by flooding to port facilities and the consequences associated with marine pollution, as well as dredging, for the marine environment. Actions by Mombasa Port to install eco-terracing and renewable energy facilities have helped alleviate these risks, but more work needs to be done. Increasing investment to reduce pollution risks from ship ballast and raw material processing, and greater integration of green/blue infrastructure, can help to ensure that further port development takes place in harmony with, and not at the expense of, Mombasa’s natural resources.

Given the proximity of Mombasa’s tourism industry to the ocean, it is necessary to minimize risks, both to facilities and people who rely on it as a significant source of income. In addition, reducing pollution from coastal hotels is critical to reducing damage to the immediate marine environment that the tourism industry depends on. Encouraging ecotourism activities in coral reefs and supporting recreational fishing opportunities along the coastline is an entry point for furthering sustainable management. More effective social safety net programs are also needed to strengthen socioeconomic resilience among the industry’s most vulnerable workers.51Interview with representative from the Kenya Association of Hotel and Caterers, June 2021.

Finally, improving the sustainability of nearshore fish stocks by improving fisheries management and enforcement and helping local fisherfolk diversify their employment is needed. Expanding the capacity of Beach Management Units, which help regulate local fisheries and promote poverty reduction among the fishers’ communities, is one potential avenue for reform. Finally, local leaders could expand job training and provide financial support to local anglers, encouraging them to avoid unsustainable fishing practices and allowing them to purchase less damaging fishing gear, both of which may reduce risk to the marine environment. These targeted interventions can help to ensure that Mombasa continues to develop its blue economy with the natural environment.

Improve urban planning and invest in climate-smart infrastructure in vulnerable neighborhoods

In tandem with integrating urban and marine planning, it is essential to further address risks to informal outlying settlements, which suffer from inadequate waste management, sanitation, drainage and sewer systems, and settlements planning, and high incidence of flooding. In response, the Mombasa County Government has started joint venture partnerships with private investors to improve several coastal neighborhoods, including Tudor, Mzizma, and Buxton. Augmenting such plans with upgraded infrastructure is critical to further mitigate adverse risks to the terrestrial and marine environment. 

The compounding risks posed by sewage and solid waste to flood risk are high priorities, and can be addressed through large- and small-scale approaches. Projects such as biodigesters, which are currently being implemented on Mombasa Island as part of planning regulation reforms for new builds, are an important step to reduce pressure on the overall waste system.52Meeting with Mombasa County Department of Planning, July 2021. Larger infrastructure projects should also be augmented by small-scale approaches. The city’s only sewage plant, Kipevu, is currently operating far below capacity. Existing infrastructure is inadequate, and large-scale interventions are needed to increase capacity. Such expansion must be undertaken after social and environmental impact assessments, to ensure that new infrastructure meets the needs of vulnerable city residents and does not harm the marine environment.


Organizations InterviewedOrganizations Surveyed
Association for Coastal Ecosystem Services (ACES)
Blue Ventures
Climate Change Directorate, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Government of Kenya
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Coastal Oceans Research and Development – Indian Ocean (CORDIO)
Department of Physical Planning, County Government of Mombasa
Department of Environment, Waste Management, and Energy, County Government of Mombasa Department of Environmental Sciences, Machakos University
Food and Agriculture Administration of the United Nations (FAO)
International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF)
Kenya Association of Hotel and Caterers (KAHC)
Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (KETRACO)
Limited Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA)
Kenya Ports Authority (KPA)
Kenya Renewable Energy Association
Miji Bora Project, COMRED
National Environment Management Authority (NEMA)
The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Kenya Office
Port Management Association of Eastern and Southern Africa (PMAESA)
Pwani University Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD)
UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
UN Habitat
United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Kenya Office
Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA)
World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
African Academy of Sciences
Bamburi Cement Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA)
Climate Change Directorate, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, National Government of Kenya
Coastal & Marine Resource Development (COMRED)
Coastal Oceans Research and Development – Indian Ocean (CORDIO)
County Government of Mombasa
Hand in Hand Eastern Africa
Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)
Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC)
Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM)
Kenya Bureau of Standards, National Government of Kenya
Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (KETRACO)
Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI)
Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA)
Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS)
National Environment Management Authority (NEMA)
The Nature Conservancy (TNC)
Norwegian Meteorological Institute (NMI)
Pwani University South Eastern Kenya University (SEKU)
Technical University of Mombasa
Tuktuk Transport
UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Kenya
University of Nairobi
Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA)
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