An anxious Juma Ogonda trembled with fury at the mere sight of the rotting carcass of the last of his 250 goats.
In just under one month, the peasant farmer had lost hundreds of animals as drought persisted and pasture became scarce.
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At the same time, the fury of the weather had depleted his farm yields, with no grains left in his granary. Vegetables and maize had dried up leaving only soot-like structures standing forlornly in the expansive farm.
In this part of western Kenya in Homa Bay where Ogonda comes from, the weather vagaries have shocked residents to the core. From the days of their forefathers, weather patterns were a lot more predictable and never in history had they lost so many animals due to starvation and disease. But things have since changed for worse.
Worse still, fisheries have dwindled despite being a resource relied upon by millions of people faced with hunger and economic challenges such as the 70 year-old Ogonda who have increasingly become desperate for answers. The suffering has been long and winding.
Sitting under a leafless acacia tree this afternoon, Ogonda ponders his next move. But certainly, hopelessness is printed all over. His wrinkled face tells it all and the not so pleasant din from his grass thatched house perturbs him. His children and grandchildren aren’t sure when the next meal will arrive. It’s been a whole day without a sip.
In a place where more than 80 per cent of people live below a dollar a day, Ogonda is just but one of the millions of people whose lives hang in the balance due to extreme weather.
“Long before when I was young, we used to have bountiful harvests. The rains were plenty. Soil was fertile and water was in abundance. Strange but stubborn diseases of today were unheard of. What is happening now is worrying. May the gods of our lands pity us,” Ogonda says, his eyes transfixed on the skies above, perhaps expecting to see dark clouds that may suggest the remote possibility of rainfall. But again, when the rains finally come, floods quickly become another threat.
The trends have become unpredictable. Ogonda’s woes mirror the extent of the emerging environmental catastrophes that have hit many villages in East Africa due to the vagaries of climate change. In the last decade, environmental degradation has hit a record high in Africa where two thirds of the continent is dry lands.
More than 20 per cent of dry lands have been degraded through human activities, with poorest nations bearing the heaviest brunt.
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“Desertification poses one of the greatest environmental challenges today and constitutes a major barrier to meeting poverty eradication goals. This is why man has to change the way they use their environment. We need a radical shift in the way we operate,” environmental lawyer Odete Ouko says.
Experts blame desertification and harm in dry lands on ecosystem variations in climate and uncontrolled human activities. More than a third of the world’s croplands have become unproductive in the past 40 decades. Drought and land degradation are among the world’s most critical environmental challenges, with more that 250 million people affected in at least 100 vulnerable countries, including Kenya.
According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, if no countermeasures are taken, desertification in dry lands will threaten future improvements in human wellbeing and reverse economic gains in some regions.
“We are in this together,” says environmental activist Paul Okinyi. We must take it upon ourselves to change the way we do things to mitigate effects of climate change. We must all embrace environmental consciousness even among illiterate, poor rural communities,” he told The Standard in an interview.
“If we continue living in denial about climate change, we are putting our very livelihoods at great risk,” he added.
Already affecting large swatches of the region, the stress of drought, famine and deepening poverty have created social strains, in turn creating the potential for involuntary migration, the breakdown of communities, political instability and armed conflict.
Drought and land degradation, which are prevalent in northern Kenya, are among the world’s most critical environmental challenges, with more that 250 million people affected in at least 100 vulnerable countries.
Experts say stress of drought, famine and deepening poverty threatens to create social strains, in turn creating the potential for involuntary migration, the breakdown of communities, political instability and armed conflict.
The government, however, hopes to use the National Climate Change Response Strategy to initiate adaptation in vulnerable regions including the arid and semi-arid zones, lake basins and the coastal areas in Mombasa, Kilifi and Malindi areas.
The strategy enlists action plans Kenya will take towards adapting to climate change, with an annual budget for proposed climate change programmes standing at Sh235 billion nationally.
A recent Oxfam report warns poor harvest, water shortages and extreme temperatures, as the consequences of climate change will plunge millions of the rural poor into desperation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that by mid-century, more than a billion people would face water shortage and hunger, including 600 million in Africa alone.
To the more than 80 per cent Kenyans who live below the poverty line and who rely on subsistence farming, the objectives of the Paris Agreement and realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals may remain a mirage for years to come.
To most climate change victims, the global search for solutions to problems bedeviling them right in their immediate environments has been slow and obstinate. However, when Kenya called for global support for its climate agenda at the COP22 climate talks in Morocco, optimism had grown. The main challenge, it emerged, was limited climate financing.
“To survive the uncertainties and to change the coasts and oceans for the better, communities must remain on the forefront towards fighting for better environmental practices by way of helping others embrace environmental awareness campaigns,” says Odete.
As world leaders prepare for another round of climate change talks (COP 24) this year, peasant farmers will be looking for new solutions to cope with the weather vagaries.