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I saw the impact of a changing climate in Kenya

24 October 2018

Communities which have done so little to contribute to climate change are facing the brunt of its impact

Lucy Wanjeru Njue says “Our nutrition is better now as we have a better variety of food”. Photo : Eoinn Wrenn

Lucy Wanjeru Njue says “Our nutrition is better now as we have a better variety of food”. Photo : Eoinn Wrenn

I was in Kenya earlier this month when the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued their damning report. They highlighted the failure of the international community to take meaningful action to stop the planet heating by a maximum of 1.5°C. 
 
According to the IPCC we only have 12 years to ensure global warming is kept to this maximum 1.5°C rise. Otherwise the risks of water shortages, drought and more extreme weather events will be a lot higher for hundreds of millions of people across the world.
 
I was thinking about the report and the consequences of inaction on its findings as I sat with groups of farmers in Ishiara in central Kenya. We were discussing the everyday challenges they face just to grow enough food for their families to survive, and it was clear how climate change is a daily reality for them now. 
 
How much worse will it become for them and hundreds of millions of other small, poor farmers across the world if something drastic does not happen very soon?

Extreme weather is the new norm

Over the past two years many parts of Kenya have been affected by drought only to be followed by devastating floods. In 2017 failed rains led to a drought resulting in 3.4 million Kenyans needing emergency aid and over 500,000 children suffered from acute malnutrition. 
 
When the rains did finally arrive in early 2018, after two years of waiting, the rains were so heavy in certain areas that over 300,000 people were displaced from their homes. 186 people were killed and 600,000 needed emergency support. Unfortunately these extreme weather events are becoming the norm in countries such as Kenya. 

Lucy’s story

Speaking to Lucy Wanjeru Njue, a farmer in Ishiara, I was struck by how much the climate dictates her life. She spoke to me of frequent crop failures and her family’s utter reliance on rainfall for her crops to grow so that she can feed her family. 
 
Given Lucy’s vulnerability to climate change Trócaire is supporting her and hundreds of other female and male farmers in Ishiara, to reduce their vulnerably to climate change. 
 
  • The community has been provided with an irrigation system so that they now have access to water from a nearby river. 
  • She has received training on how to get the best out of her land by using natural pesticides and fertilisers.  
  • She has been supported to develop a kitchen garden and has learnt simple techniques on how to ensure the soil maximises the little rainfall that it gets. This involves using raised vegetable beds, mixed cropping and growing fruit trees to provide shelter to the soil from the sun. 
Lucy told me that she, her husband and young child now have a more diversified and balanced diet due to the range of crops they grow. Their yields are better and she can sell some of the excess crops to earn a little money for the family. 
 
 Eoin Wrenn
 
Lucy Wanjeru Njue says “I’m now able to grow enough food that I can sell some vegetables to my neighbours”. Photo : Eoin Wrenn

The world has to act

While Lucy is now better placed to cope with the changing climate, countless millions of people across the world remain extremely vulnerable to the impact of climate change.
 
As the seas rise due to melting icecaps, as storms become more frequent, violent and unpredictable, as droughts last longer, more and more people become exposed to the real threats that climate change poses to us. 
 
The world has to act now if people like Lucy and her family, who have done so little to contribute to climate change yet face the brunt of its impact, are to survive.
 
Eoin Wrenn is Head of Region for Horn and East Africa with Trócaire.
 

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