Act globally to avert climate driven child deaths

Women from Koitebes area in Mogotio struggle to draw little water from the drying riverbed. [Gideon Kangogo, Standard]

Children aged below five and their mothers are becoming the new face of effects of prolonged drought in at least six worst affected counties.

This week, the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) said over 940,000 children risked death due to malnutrition resulting from food scarcity caused by prolonged drought in some four counties.

At the same time, at least 134,000 pregnant or lactating women in the said counties; Marsabit, Turkana, Wajir and Mandera alone are “acutely malnourished”, creating need not only for food, but also medical attention.

This problem is not unique to Kenya. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in data released in April, the number of children faced with similar problems in the Horn of Africa was 10 million, with Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania alone accounting for nearly 2 million.

The NDMA says the most affected in the drought-stricken counties are children aged between six months and five years; ideally infants and toddlers. 

This beside the number of older children missing out on school, which UNICEF puts at 1.1 million in Horn of Africa. It says the number of households without reliable access to clean and safe water had by April almost doubled “from 5.6 million to 10.5 million”.

The families therefore eat to survive. They do not eat healthy. They do not choose food; they eat what’s available. They do not have the luxury of three meals a day, neither is any always balanced. The babies get a refined version of the same poor nutrition from breast milk, and suffer malnutrition.

The same applies to pregnant women, who also have to worry for two when food and water are scarce. And as pregnancy grows, so does the nutritional needs for the woman and the unborn.

The extremely high temperatures in dry seasons can cause miscarriages or pre-term births, some which may be fatal.

According to The Climate Reality Project, pre-term births occur 16 per cent more times during heat waves. And these may not be reported as effects of the climate crisis because even the victims know not. But they lose children.

Dry weather also enables air and water pollution by dust, and dirt from animals watering at the same points humans get the commodity.
Unfortunately, some of the counties most affected by the prolonged drought in the Arid and Semi-Arid areas are also some of the poorest, even with devolution at work.

Globally, such problems can occur anywhere, but it is in Africa and other poor nations in the global south that response to such may not be timely or adequate, increasing the chances of child mortality.

The climate crisis is undeniable, and even though locally, government may be doing its best to allocate funds for adaptation and mitigation efforts, global action cannot be overemphasized.

The climate talks in Bonn, Germany early last month, a precursor to COP27 slated for November in Egypt, should act as a warning sign for the Africa Group of Negotiators, led by Mr Ephraim Mwepya Shitima.

In Bonn, the discourse over who, between the developed and developing nations, should pay for climate induced damage, and who should minimise their carbon emissions was not conclusive.

Truth is, however hard we work locally to mitigate and adapt to drought and other extreme weather, without proper global action, ours will be a drop in the ocean.

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