Do more to reduce impact of recurrent drought

Letoyie Leroshi, a Samburu man gives cows water from a well in Kom village, Samburu County, on October 15, 2022. [AP photo]

Kenya is among the least contributors of greenhouse gas emissions but still bears the brunt of climate change.

A third consecutive below-average rainfall is negatively affecting food availability in 20 of the 23 arid and semi-arid land counties.

According to the National Drought Management Authority’s October 2022 report, 4.35 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance. Among them, 942,000 children aged between 6 and 59 months are acutely malnourished. In addition, 134,000 pregnant or lactating women are acutely malnourished and need treatment.

How did we get here? As far back as November 2021, the Famine Early Warning System Network issued an alert on the imminent drought in the Horn of Africa. However, coordination between the national and county governments as well as sector players to streamline and synergise efforts to respond to climate change impacts remains a big challenge.

Vulnerability to climate shocks such as this drought is destroying local livelihoods of small-scale farmers and herders. Already, pastoralists are losing thousands of animals and the livestock market in places like Kajiado County have collapsed. Scientific evidence points to the frequency of droughts, floods, and other extreme climate events as damaging to the climate system.

The climate crisis has long been a conversation for global events and seminars. However, the voices of communities that experience its greatest impact, and hence cannot meet their household food needs, are rarely heard.

Women in arid areas such as Turkana are heavily affected by climate change. It exacerbates their vulnerability and amplifies existing gender inequalities, health and safety. Severe drought forces women and girls to travel long distances to fetch water. Traditionally, women also have the most responsibility for environmental sanitation, and drought only amplifies that burden.

Girls’ access to education in rural Turkana is greatly affected as they are kept out of school to search for water. As the custodians of the households, disasters like floods only find women at home as men leave with the livestock.

So, what do we do today to avert the next drought? Investments in responsive drought warning systems needs to increase. Weather and climate forecasting should provide informative and operational data that can help in projecting future droughts and flood episodes.

This should be coupled with clear, simple, useful and usable information to enable proper preparedness and response by communities. It will help safeguard lives and livelihoods.

Already, a lot is being done to strengthen the resilience of communities against climate shocks. These includes livestock off-take programmes by the government and partners, distribution of animal feeds as well as veterinary services to help protect the livestock.

That said, we need to rethink and appraise existing strategies to combat causes and impact of climate change.

-Ms Onyango works for Practical Action