I saw the devastation in Kenya with my own eyes

With growing water scarcity, women are becoming more vulnerable to gender-based violence (REUTERS)

With growing water scarcity, women are becoming more vulnerable to gender-based violence (REUTERS)

I see two young girls, just over six years old, drawing water from a dirty water tank. They fill a 20 liter container which, when full, weighs almost as much as they do. They push him back for more than a kilometer, walking along roads littered with rotting animal carcasses – the corpses of cattle that have no pasture or water to feed them.

I am a visitor to Isiolo county in northern Kenya. But this is the daily reality of many communities here in Africa.

Northern Kenya is in the grip of a severe and prolonged drought at the moment. There has been no rain for over two years. Households have been completely devastated by the loss of livestock. A farm I visited had a herd of 50 cattle and 30 goats before the drought. They only have two cows and a goat left.

These pastoral communities depend on their animals as a source of income to feed themselves, take their children to school and buy water – which is becoming a rare and expensive commodity.

Women and children are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis – and the situation in Isiolo County is a shocking example of what that looks like. Women have to travel extraordinary distances just to fetch water. So many of their water sources have completely dried up. The remaining wells are dangerous to access. They are deep and surrounded by quicksand, with no living vegetation to hold the earth in place. We heard of a young man who was buried alive in one of these wells – he collapsed while collecting water.

With increasing water scarcity, women are becoming more vulnerable to gender-based violence. Women farmers in western Kenya told me how periods of drought cause conflict in their homes because they do not have water to clean the house, clean clothes and provide water for themselves. wash. It was also shocking to learn that, with cases of rape becoming rampant, some now head to the water source at midnight to avoid long queues with their daughters.

Malnutrition is everywhere, with children eating only one meal a day. In Isiolo County, food and water insecurity is now so severe that even school feeding programs have been halted. The climate crisis has pushed these communities beyond their capacity to adapt. As we drove through the area, we passed caravans of people carrying their belongings. They lost everything to the drought and their homes became unlivable. The only choice left is to migrate.

The drought had a profound economic impact. Livestock keepers are being forced further and further away from established markets, which prevents them from earning any kind of income. The remaining livestock are sold at exorbitant prices, and products like milk now cost double the price before the drought. Rising inflation is making a bad situation worse. Diversification options are limited. Farmers already struggle to farm on irrigated land and most other potential livelihoods depend on a stable climate.

The climate crisis is a human tragedy and an intolerable injustice. Countries in the African region are the least responsible for the climate crisis, but are among the most vulnerable to its impacts. Ours is the second largest and most populous continent in the world, but accounts for only 0.5% of historical emissions and less than 4% of global emissions today.

This week, the Cop27 international climate change conference will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. African politicians and civil society call for climate justice. This means that the rich countries that caused this crisis are finally delivering on their promises and providing the financial resources needed to adapt us and move to a clean economy.

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It also means that these leaders fully recognize that climate impacts are now beyond the adaptive capacity of many communities – and show real solidarity by establishing a dedicated funding mechanism for loss and damage.

Critical conversations about the climate crisis have for far too long taken place in closed rooms and elite political hallways, where very few people understand the lived reality of frontline communities. So many leaders and negotiators have never witnessed the devastation I have seen with my own eyes. It is time to revolutionize the climate negotiation space. We need to make these spaces accessible and put people – especially those most affected – at the heart of every decision we make.

As a child, I felt peaceful and safe. When I think of those two girls fetching water, those women and girls who are afraid of being raped, I can’t believe how much everything has changed. I pray that Cop27 brings them something. And I dream of a time when African children will once again feel peaceful and safe.

Abigael Kima is the host and producer of the Hali Hewa Podcast. She is based in Kenya

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