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NewsNotes, May-June 2010
Vol. 35 No. 3

Africa: Impact of climate change on pastoralists

“For Africans the damage of climate change is not something that could happen in the future. It is already here with us, sowing misery and death across the land. Africa is indeed paying with the misery and death of its people for the wealth and well-being that was created in the developed countries through carbon-intensive development. That is fundamentally unjust.” Meles Zenawi, prime minister of Ethiopia and the African Union’s chief negotiator in Copenhagen, December 16, 2009.

The effects of climate change - such as drought, livestock deaths and resource conflict - may be all too apparent to pastoralists of northern Kenya, but there is much educational work to be done to explain the true causes and to identify effective and acceptable adaptation strategies.

“We were warned about the current situation by our elders and spiritual leaders when I was very young. This was about 50 years ago when the Ngishili age groups were born,” said Lemeteki Lerinagato, 70 to IRIN (April 15, 2010).

“Our people are dying like wild animals due to hunger, thirst and poverty. Young men are being killed every day. I am afraid our girls will not find men to marry. It is a curse... nothing else,” said Wario Ndenge, a Gabra elder from the upper eastern Marsabit region. “Frequent droughts and lack of food are clear signs of the curse. Women must stop wearing trousers. They should respect their husbands. And the wealthy must help the poor.”

According to local officials, many residents either disagree with the scientific explanation for climate change or are unaware of it. But pastoralist expert Daud Tari claims it is misleading and unfair to suggest that nomadic pastoralists are ignorant about climate change. In fact, they are well informed about the subject because they are the most severely affected, but the least prepared to adapt to the changes or to mitigate the effects “for which they are also the least responsible.” Tari added that more funds should be allocated to help dry-land communities adapt.

According to Abdinasir Ali Guled of the Indigenous Resources Exploitation Organization, the changing climate has increased poverty and environmental degradation as residents turn to charcoal burning to survive after dropping out of pastoralism. Youth are resorting to cattle rustling and insecurity has worsened.
Lordman Lekalkalai of the Isiolo Arid Lands Resource Management Project said that local officials are using government assessment reports of past weather patterns and impacts and information gathered from residents to help communities prepare for weather changes and to forestall losses, including livestock deaths. The government will also establish more livestock markets and abattoirs in the region and will encourage rainwater harvesting and the diversification of livelihoods and diets.

Both livestock keeping and food crop production are viable in the region as there is fertile land along the Ewaso N’giro and Tana rivers. The hope is that these steps will help increase income, promote food security and alleviate poverty.

Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai recently noted that 15 of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change are in Africa. “We must find the right way to let our people know why.”

“Even a few years ago, most developing nations viewed climate change as one more trouble to which they could, with sufficient aid, adapt,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu. “But after Arctic sea ice melted so dramatically in the summer of 2007, climate scientists began re-evaluating their predictions – the earth was reacting more violently than expected to even small temperature increases.

“It became clear that for many countries basic survival was at stake … Kenya’s ongoing drought, with the deaths of thousands of cattle and devastating crop failures that have accompanied it, is giving us a vivid picture of what uncontrolled climate change might bring to the African continent…

“I ask all those around the world who care about Africa to support climate fairness by starting or joining an awareness-raising action where they live. It is a chance for us to act as global citizens, not as isolated individuals and lonely consumers. It is a chance for world leaders to listen to the voices of conscience, not only those who speak about financial markets….”

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