Climate change effects, drought led to many needing relief food

A boy walks in a field littered with carcasses in Ijara, Garissa County. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Impacts of climate change characterised by floods and drought continued to manifest this year even as Africa hosted the 27th session of climate negotiations.

The Conference of Parties (COP27) took place in Egypt at a time when Kenya, among other African countries, was experiencing a drought that resulted in food crises.

In February this year, Kenya Food Security Steering Group’s annual Short Rains Assessment reported that there were around 3.1 million people battling hunger across the country, a 48 per cent increase since August 2021.

The numbers have since increased to affect the current estimated 4.35 million people who require humanitarian assistance.

Experts attribute the 2022 food insecurity crises to widespread below-average crop production failures in both arid and semi-arid areas as well as bread baskets.

Crop production as per the National Drought Management Authority reports was significantly affected by late-onset, poor distribution, and below-average rainfall between October and December, resulting in the below-average harvest.

Maize production for the 2022 long rains season in Kenya was projected to be between 15 and 20 per cent below the five-year average for the same period.

“The production of maize in the marginal agricultural clusters is projected to be about 4.92 million 90 kg bags against 6.97 million bags.

“This represents a decline of 42 per cent which is attributed to reduced acreage and below average rainfall whose distribution in time and space was poor resulting in significant crop failure,” NDMA report notes.

According to the KFSSG, the maize harvest in the marginal agricultural areas is between 45 and 50 percent of the five-year national maize production average while in areas of Western and Rift Valley, maize production declined by 10 to 15 per cent below the long-term average.

Wilted at critical stage

The declines are attributed to the late onset of the long rains and dry spells during the critical stages of growth that resulted in reduced production in most counties.

Production of leguminous crops such as green grams and cow peas declined by 75 to 85 percent and beans by 30 per cent compared to the long-term average.

Reports indicate that some farmers in arid and semi-arid areas did not plant and for those who did, a remarkable portion of the crops wilted at the critical stage.

The impact of drought has seen the number of people requiring humanitarian assistance rise to 4.35 million. Risks of Acute malnutrition continue to be reported in arid and semi-arid counties where cases of children, pregnant and lactating women are malnourished.

By July this year, it was estimated that the number of people who needed urgent humanitarian assistance was 3.5 million compared to 3.1 million in February 2022, representing a 22.6 percent increase within the five-month period.

National Drought and Management Authority noted that the increase in the number of affected people was a reflection of a worsening food security situation driven mainly by consecutive poor rainfall performance.

By November, the drought had adversely affected 20 out of the 23 arid and semi-arid counties. Although rains were reported across several counties, the rains are yet to reverse the current situation in affected counties except for Laikipia County which recorded an improvement.

During the same month, the health of children in 13 counties was worsening. They included children from Tharaka-Nithi, Wajir, Kwale, Samburu, Garissa, Kwale Laikipia, Makueni, Garissa, Baringo, Isiolo, Turkana, Taita-Taveta and Lamu.

While agriculture is the backbone of Africa’s economy, the drought crisis is projected to affect the sector in the coming years.

African countries are highly dependent on rain-fed agriculture and limited capacity to adapt to climate change despite being ranked among the most disaster-prone countries.

Between 2000 and 2009, the Kenya Red Cross Society estimates that 94,526 Kenyans out of every one million were affected by natural disasters. Of these, more than 70 per cent resulted from extreme climatic events.

Facing food crisis

Changes in the frequency, as well as the intensity of disaster occurrence, have been noticeable. “Before 2005, drought was experienced once every 10 years. However, from 2005, drought cases are experienced every 3 to 5 years,” Red Cross Society noted.

This month, the International Centre for Humanitarian Affairs of Kenya Red Cross Society launched an early warning early action manual to be used by climate users to have basic knowledge of weather and climate concepts. The manual helps strengthen the understanding of the available early warning systems.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections indicate that warming scenarios will affect crop production and food security.

Across the continent, people who have been affected by hunger have increased significantly in the last ten years according to data from Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). UN estimates that 120 million people across the continent are facing a food crisis, an increase of 45.6 per cent in 2012.

The scenarios that have been intensifying with time saw African delegations at the COP27 rooting for the creation of Loss and Damage fund. It is estimated that Africa loses between Sh862 billion and 1.8 trillion a year to climate change.

“Africa doesn’t have access to the financing it needs to adapt to climate change and meet nationally determined contributions. By 2030, Africa will need between Sh160 trillion and Sh197 trillion,” President of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina said.

The ‘African CoP’ finally led to a historic decision to establish and operationalise the loss and damage fund to specifically help nations who are most vulnerable to the climate crisis.

The fund is expected to see developing countries supported for losses arising from droughts, floods, rising seas and other disasters that are attributed to climate change.

Other successful negotiations in this year’s CoP included an Sh28.3 billion Adaptation Fund pledge by several states, regional governments and development agencies. The fund will help vulnerable communities around the world adapt to climate change.