In the dusty and windswept Korr village in Marsabit, Aisha Bulyar pulls a 20-litre jerrycan of water while a pair of donkeys carry her few belongings. Fetching water here is a whole day’s affair. The water level at the village well was at its lowest, forcing her to travel kilometres further in search of the vital liquid.
“It got worse in the last four years of drought,” says Bulyar as she shelters under the shade of an acacia, too tired to hold a long conversation. “With no rain, those who grow food have nothing to sell. The heat will kill us.”
Her home, and the larger Marsabit County, is a semi-arid zone but droughts are occurring with more frequency than they did two or three decades ago. She cannot pinpoint the cause but those in the know point to climatic patterns gone rogue.
According to the World Bank, marginalised communities such as the Rendille make up only six per cent of the world population but account for 19 per cent of the extreme poor. Their life expectancy, states the bank, is 20 years lower than non-indigenous people. Today, they are the ones affected most by the ravages of a changing climate.
The ongoing Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi holds hope for people like Bulyar. The summit will use apocalyptic words and phrases such ‘global warming’, ‘loss and damage’, ‘climate mitigation and adaptation’, and ‘net zero’.
Like many villagers in Korr, Bulyar knows little about climate change. In fact, there is no word in her language, or many African vernaculars, for what is shaping up as the scariest phrase in the world today.
Ann Samante, who represented pastoralist communities at the summit’s opening ceremony on Monday, said the role indigenous people such as Bulyar play in protecting the ecosystem makes them primary actors in the fight against climate change.
They have lived off the land, using her resources in a sustainable manner. They draw the water needed for the day, collect few pieces of firewood to cook and warm the family one day at a time, while grazing their livestock in a rotational manner so as to give room for new shoots to grow. They conserved before the Western-led models kicked in.
Sadly, they have paid the ultimate price. It is now a cliché that Africa accounts for less than four per cent of greenhouse gases that cause global warming but has suffered the worst consequences—prolonged droughts and devastating floods leading to loss of livestock and at times, human life.
“They (indigenous communities) are hardest hit by climate change,” said Samante. “They are also the lowest emitters. We contribute greatly to indigenous knowledge, but traditional adaptation is not recognised in formal frameworks. We are not only victims, but we also come up with solutions.”
According to Samante, it is the indigenous people who have made it possible for governments and private investors to exploit renewable energy sources found in community lands. These territories, she said, have been referred to as ‘idle land’ that some have been used without prior and informed consent.
“There is no idle land,” she told the delegates including President William Ruto. “These are our fathers’ grazing areas and centres of our cultural rites. Our knowledge and traditional adaptation methods are not entrenched in formal policy. Poor legal framework denies these communities access to climate financing,” she said.
While the grazing fields of northern Kenya are quickly turning to dust bowls due to the cyclic bouts of drought, delegates in Nairobi were urged to harness “trillions of dollars globally…looking for ‘green investment opportunities’.”
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In 2009, the Global North pledged to mobilize $100 billion every year to assist less wealthy nations in combating the vagaries of climate change by 2020. Nature Journal called this a ‘broken promise’ as the rich nations struggle to keep their word.
But even if they did, the terms of accessing such funds and other forms of climate financing are too restrictive to ever make a dent in the lives of Africa’s marginalised communities.
“It is one thing to say what is possible and entirely another to make it happen, said Ruto. “Infrastructure is expensive. It needs finance, and finely-tuned policies to attract investors. A major concern is the cost of capital in Africa, acting as a most prohibitive barrier to our progress. Private investors charge high premiums, driven by both real and mostly perceived risks. It is not a secret that we are paying at least five times as much as the advanced economies to borrow from financial markets.”
At the end of the summit, a Nairobi Declaration will be made to indicate the continental direction as Africa heads to COP28 in Dubai this November. The declaration will be made in the face of global developments that have turned marginalized people like Bulyar into ‘climate migrants’.
And while she may not comprehend the language of the Africa Climate Summit, Simon Stiell, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, may have summed her unspoken ideals: “The world is asking a lot: Develop, but don’t do it in the carbon-intensive way that we did. It is a global responsibility to collectively work out how we do that. And that’s exactly what we’re here to do.”