Rethink climate change, conflicts for sustainable future

Locust invasion across the Horn of Africa exacerbates possibility of wild fires – complicating climate change effects further

In Summary

• Over the last decade, the country has witnessed extreme weather events that have adversely affected the agriculture sector.

• Kenya relies on agriculture in driving its economy as a source or food, income and employment.

Rethink climate change, conflicts for sustainable future
Rethink climate change, conflicts for sustainable future
Image: OZONE

Climate change is one of humanities most insidious threats. Manifesting mainly as drought and floods in the majority of developing countries, it is to blame for wildfires and the general decline of resources and attendant transboundary conflicts.

Locust invasion across the Horn of Africa exacerbates possibility of wild fires – complicating climate change effects further.

Over the last decade, the country has witnessed extreme weather events that have adversely affected the agriculture sector. Kenya relies on agriculture in driving its economy as a source or food, income and employment.

The indeterminacy of weather has made it difficult for farmers and herders to monitor seasons and plan accordingly. Statistics reveal agricultural losses attributable to climate change – directly and indirectly are quickly bulging, complicating the country food security situation.

As the climate change challenge keeps spanning, the poor who have low coping capacities are affected the most. Shifting weather patterns which is characterise by rising sea levels, prolonged episodes of drought, mad-floods and avalanches make climate change adaptation quite a hustle. Among nomadic communities who move from place to place in search of water and pasture, it heightens the possibility of conflicts and scuttles chances of nomads settling.

Hitherto impacts of climate change that were considered as temporary and easily manageable are conglomerating into a hard-nut to crack, unless urgent interventions are made to reverse the emerging trend. It is increasingly plausible that diseases that are affecting plants and humanity, conflicts and the reducing potential of the soil to produce food are being catalysed by a warming climate.

As much as it is debatable on what causes climate change, science suggests humanity is to blame. Variant anthropogenic activities produce carbon dioxide, which is mainly to blame for the wearing off of the ozone layer, causing planet earth to warm. Science warns that it might take longer to cool our warming planet because of the longevity of carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere. Simulations reveal that carbon dioxide gas has a lifespan of 1,000 years.

The International Energy Agency reveals carbon dioxide gas emissivity over the last decade generally spiralled. Convincingly, this resulted to an increased annualised mean temperature levels every subsequent year, since the stroke of the new millennium. Over the same period, the country has had to deal with harsh weather events that have swept roads, hurt farm produce narrowing livelihoods, loss of lives and livestock.

Kenya’s overdependence on agriculture makes climate change a greater emergency. Agriculture is directly and indirectly affected by the impacts of climate change. From the preparation of the field through planting and harvesting, storage and transportation to the market, if rains do not fall in their measure it is not implausible that food insecurity will worsen into the future.

Since most of our agricultural activities are less mechanised, Covid-19, which impels farmers’ physical distancing, is likely to hurt reduce yields. Yields are also likely to be wasted on the farm, off the farm and along the value chain because of little leveraging on technology. Technologies that can prolong produce, especially perishables and cereals are important in minimising losses.

Last year, the country experienced unprecedented rains, thanks to the Indian Ocean Dipole. It poured, across the country. As electricity and transport networks were cut, those in the low lands were advised to move to higher grounds. But in parts of Central, Rift Valley and Nyanza, colossal rains swept houses down the hillsides and killed many. Through the period, the price of tomatoes doubled and tripled in markets across the country in Kongowea, Karatina and Kondele.

Most disturbingly, there is an increasing trend about climate change-induced conflicts in the country. Anytime there is scarcity in the north, herders flock the south around the slopes of Mount Kenya and in the Taita hills in search of water and pasture. Often, this has led to inter-communal conflicts between herders and farmers. Intensification of these conflicts is to blame for human-human and human-animal conflicts, scenarios that are likely to intensity should locust invasion become a recurrent problem.

Recently, inter-communal conflicts over water and pasture erupted in Elwak, Mandera county, leaving at least three people dead. Official statistics indicate  the county received 263 mm of rainfall over the short rains season of October, November and December in 2019. This amount was over five times lesser when compared to 1,415.3 mm of rainfall received in Meru county in the same season.

Doubtlessly, there is no magic wand to problems brought about by climate change. This is because climate change affects almost everything, directly or indirectly. Migrations cannot be a constant solution as they lead to outbursts of otherwise avoidable conflicts in serene communities. In any case, places of abundance where nomads move to have their own climate-related challenges that need urgent solutions. For instance, charcoal burning in the slopes of Mt Kenya has in the recent years caused wild fires, threatening biodiversity.

The solution needed require consideration of adaptation options that are well calibrated to so that they are acceptable and affordable by all. Stocktaking of economic and environmental resources – including surface water and underground is key to ensuring its equitable use.

In drier counties like Mandera where dispute over accessibility and use of water and pasture has ignited tension, novel use of river Daua can go along way in solving the problem. The local leadership should intervene and encourage understanding between the worrying communities.

It should be explained in ways that all can understand that climate change is common challenge and that solutions cannot be reached in isolation or through tussles. Above all, innovative modalities which are not limited to water desalination, construction of dams and boreholes are needed to cushion the communities in drier regions for sustainable peace and development.

Obed Nyangena is an economist at the Kenya School of Government

[email protected], @ResilientEagle