Long-term solutions key to addressing drought

Josephine Stegeman sheds tears after visiting Amuriat Egiron in Kakwanyang village, Turkana Central, Turkana County. [Mike Ekutan, Standard]

Growing up in the 90s in Kapsabet, national days were a marvel because of the celebrations at the stadium, and of course that one-shilling coloured water in a slim plastic bag we called ice cream.

One of the attractions, besides the entertainment, was the spectacular moments when the rain maker, donning traditional attire, would appear with the long horns, a flywhisk in hand, and, in that moment of silence, utter words that seemed headed straight to God's ears. We never really lacked rain at the time; but its arrival time was certain, and farmers could plan. Today, I do not know if rain makers exist, but I know rain ditched us, officially, and now Kenya is experiencing the worst drought in the last 40 years. The magnitude, where it rains and its arrival time, has become unpredictable.

And so it floods in some places. In others, despite not suffering floods or drought, crop failure is becoming a norm because of inadequate rainfall. Last December I experienced flooding in Lower Nyakach, Kisumu. The area with a good view of Nandi Hills, Nyabondo Plateau and the back of Kericho County did not receive as much rain to warrant the kind of "flash" floods twice in the last week of December. It was traumatising to see people wade murky waters, some lifting motorbikes and bicycles as they balanced to avoid being swept, old women groping for where to walk, baskets balanced on their heads in the night. Many vehicles were stuck on bad sections of the Kapsorok road that links Kisumu and Kericho.

All I heard later in family prayers were a surrender to God's will, a plea to Him to address the flooding. Two weeks later, the rain is nowhere, and now the prayers have changed. The climate change is even messing consistency in prayers!

Elsewhere, farmers have complained of intrusion by fall army worms, birds and even wild animals, especially monkeys that destroy crops, the latter even having the audacity to play hide and seek with humans or hit back when chased. Scarecrows no longer work for birds that move in large numbers, sometimes driving farmers to losses in millions.

These problems are leading many to resign to a perceived fate.

When Africa hosted the COP27 last year, there was hope that the suffering many endure due to climate change, like death of livestock, wild animals in parks, all the pains that exceed adaptation limits, would be addressed through the Loss and Damage fund that was finally adopted.

But, considering that even the $100 billion a year that polluter developed nations committed to deliver every year has not been achieved, we can only be hopeful. The countries that vowed to contribute to the Loss and Damage fund do not have to oblige; some just gave lip service. Implementation may take longer as structures and other technical requirements have to be met.

Long term solutions are needed now, to go beyond the National Drought Management Authority and other organisations' relief food, cash and prayers.

The government must get serious on irrigation efforts and show return on investment beyond rain-fed agriculture. It must exhaust all opportunities for global climate funds, even as it progresses with the mega tree-planting and other initiatives. It must maximise on food production where there is plenty to feed the hungry in other areas. It is not practical that Kitale, for instance, is a huge producer of maize yet Turkana people nearby starve.

The government has already warned that the drought will only worsen. We must not sit and wait for the worst.