A recent announcement by President Uhuru Kenyatta declaring drought in parts of the country a national disaster was commendable, but one that should have come earlier.
Drought in most of the affected counties is a result of failed rains. In some areas, especially in the Rift Valley, if it rained, it was not when farmers expected, and therefore there was inadequate water, or none, when crops really needed it.
So even though there may not be drought in such areas, we are staring at the possibility of inadequate harvest in some of the country’s food baskets due to crop failure.
According to an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies report, scanty rainfall between October and December last year, as well as March and May this year, is largely to blame for the drought.
The unpredictable rain patterns are a result of climate change. What comes to mind when climate change is mentioned is emissions of Greenhouse Gas (GHG), the 2015 Paris Agreement, melting ice caps, swelling lakes, landslides, flooding, typhoons, to name a few.
Whichever way it manifests itself, this is a crisis right at everyone’s doorstep, even when as innocent in the emissions sin as Kenya or Africa, and other least developed nations are.
Ranked globally, Africa only accounts for 4 per cent of the GHG emissions. China alone leads at 30 per cent, followed by the Americas, and others like the EU, India, and Singapore among others.
Our innocence has, however, not saved us the calamities. If anything, those in poor countries suffer more for lack of infrastructure and technology to foresee disaster. Add the effects of climate change to those of Covid-19 and you have twin crises that directly and concurrently batter the economy, health and hinder the achievement of several of the global 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
We are just recovering from the Covid-19 stress. As this disease struck in 2020, Kenya was already suffering the effects of climate change, which did not stop even as attention shifted to containing the pandemic. This was also the time the country and several others were fighting a desert locust’s invasion.
As resources were channeled to containing Covid-19, the rain patterns did not stabilise. Lake Victoria and several others in Rift Valley were literally in people’s homes and businesses; rivers burst their banks, people and animals were swept, and we still had landslides. As residents of Kilifi, Turkana, and other areas hardest hit by drought today will tell you, there was inadequate rain in the last two years. And now there is famine, and people are losing livestock, rendering them poor.
As an adherent to the 17 SDGs, Kenya must know that if it does not give SDG 13 (Climate Action) the necessary attention, then it will fail its people on several others in that list.
How do we have No Poverty (SDG 1) if as a result of climate change pastoralist communities lose all their wealth (livestock) and resources for food? Zero Hunger (SDG 2) cannot be achieved with such either. Hunger is already killing livestock and images of emaciated women and children in Turkana and other parts of the country won’t leave media spaces.
How do we achieve Good Health and Wellbeing (SDG 3) when there is little food for people to eat and hence their nutrition is threatened?
Children are not going to school (SDG 4 – Quality Education) as they have to trek long distances in search of water (SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation).
This can go on and on. In the end, we won’t have peace and justice, strong institutions (SDG 16) when climate-induced conflicts emerge as communities fight over resources.
Water pans are dry in areas most affected by the drought. The government must not wait for things to get to this level to act. We need to be more proactive.
Counties prone to drought and other effects of climate change must use locally available resources, including information, to help farmers and communities choose appropriate crops or relocate in good time, depending on the calamity.
Leaders from Arid and Semi-Arid Lands counties should sustainably push the government to act in good time, not when things are getting out of hand.
Lynet Otieno is Quality Assurance Editor at Standard Group
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