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Is Kenya’s drought a climate changing warning?

October 7, 2009

Successive failed rain seasons in Kenya have led to a drought that experts say is the worst in the country since 1996.

And it is not just a problem for Kenya. Aid agencies estimate more than 23 million people will need food aid in the Horn of Africa region.

Kenyan Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai says it shows how ill-prepared much of Africa is to deal with the effects of climate change.

Herders who depend on cattle for their food and income are having to drive their livestock hundreds of kilometres to seek pasture and water – but find little relief.

“The grass was green when I got here, but it is finished now and a lot of our animals are dying,” Grewan Lesakut, from the pastoralist Samburu community in the Rift Valley, told Reuters Africa Journal.

“The way I see it, all our cows are going to die,” fellow herder John Lenyarui said. “I know some people who had 50 cows but have nothing now, some with 200 and now have only 40 and myself I had 500 and now I have 100.”

Kenya’s Meat Commission is doing what it can. It has offered to buy thousands of cattle from their owners to be slaughtered for meat. But the government facility has been stretched to the limit and thousands of have died outside the slaughterhouse.

“This is a very ugly scene, a very disturbing scene that the country is facing,” Livestock Minister Mohamed Kuti said.

Most nomadic groups hold on to their animals even in times of severe drought, seeing them as their most valuable investment.  In desperation, Turkana villagers, from northwest Kenya, are selling their goats well below market prices to the European Union’s humanitarian wing which then distributes the meat to the hungry.

Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, says the drought is evidence of the long term effect of climate change.

“This is an excellent time for Kenya maybe to realise, and for the rest of Africa to learn, what we are talking about when we say that climate change is going to hit Africa very seriously, and it’s partly because Africa is completely unprepared for what is coming with climate change,” she told Africa Journal.

“For more than three decades we have been saying it is important to protect our forests, to protect our rivers, to protect our lands so that we stop soil erosion and to protect our wetlands.

“Somehow, all of them have come and have converged during this last two, now going to three, years and everybody and everything that is living in this country is feeling it.”

(Pictures: Turkana men slaughter goats at a livestock de-stocking centre in the Loyoro village of Turkana district in northwestern Kenya. Reuters/Thomas Mukoya. Kenya’sNobel Peace Prize laureate Maathai delivers a speech in Japan. Reuters/Kim Kyung Hoon.)


We have toasted this Planet a great deal and we might well have tripped over the Tipping Point. We live in a very Interconnected World and the blowback from this is being felt and is amplified in many different Frontiers, The Horn is clearly one of those Zones.Some responsibility also has to be laid at Our Door as well. You do not need a Degree in Rocket Science or Meteorology to recognise that we have flipped our Forest Cover for Charcoal and here too there is a vicious price to be paid.Aly-Khan alykhansatchu


Indeed the drought we are experiencing at present in Kenya is quite severe. However, as with many climatic events, it is hard to pin the blame on any single factor. Historically, the region has experienced far more severe droughts in the not too distant future, and these are just a part and parcel of the region’s climate patterns. To start talking about climate change, unfortunately, deviates from the key issue that pushed east Africa way beyond sustainability, which is population. With or without climate change, the population factor, with all its derived variables of crime, poverty, ethnic tension and environmental degradation, has brought the horn of Africa to a cliff edge where we don’t even need climate change to fall over. For that matter, all the policy makers here at home and in the donor community should return population to forefront of priorities if we are to expect at future improvement in people’s livelihoods or in our ability to adapt to climate change.

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