Climate change: it matters on the ground

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By Collins Cheruiyot

About the author: Collins Cheruiyot is CAFOD’s Policy Advocacy Adviser based in Nairobi

As a Kenyan, I found it troubling to read the raft of news stories following the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the state of our climate. Articles still asking ‘is it or isn’t it happening’, the truth sayers and deniers battling it out on the printed pages of newspapers.

The paradox is that local communities, despite living in poverty and often lacking education, understand the on-going climate threat and how it endangers their future and that of their children much better that climate skeptics, who are often so distant from the realities facing local communities, yet have a big say in policy discussions.

When it comes to global warming we can’t afford to be still fooling around with the idea of cooling. Despite being least responsible for climate change, poor communities in the developing world are being hit the most and hardest by its impacts. Scientists are as clear as they can be about the fact that mankind is responsible for global warming. Picking data from a few years to claim that warming is not happening, rather than looking at the long-term trend, is completely unscientific and bogus.

On the ground, we know that getting on with acting on climate change matters. Visiting rural communities in Kenya, hit in 2011 by the worst drought in sixty years which gripped the Horn and East of Africa, one soon learns that people understand their land and the seasons. The 2011 drought saw over 439,000 heads of livestock die in the Borana area in Ethiopia with similar losses in region.

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Whoever you speak to, a pastoralist herder, a small holder farmer, they will recount how much more extreme weather has hit them, disrupting their way of life – from being at one with nature, they are forced to become nature’s refugees, moving across the land in search of water and food for their families and animals.

By 2030, it is expected that in sub-Saharan Africa droughts could make growing maize impossible. Most of Kenya now experiences climate extremes such as frequent, irregular rainfall and intense droughts. Once farming or pastoralist communities knew when and how much they will grow, now they are never sure what the changing seasons might allow them to grow and when.

They also have to deal with more water shortages, depleted pastureland, animal and crop diseases and loss of livestock. This has a knock-on effect on food supply, which impacts on the vulnerable, especially the under -fives, the elderly and pregnant or breast-feeding mothers, who become more susceptible to malnutrition and other diseases.

When water and pasture become scarce then it can also be the tinder box that ignites conflicts between communities, leading to the needless deaths of women, children and men.

CAFOD has a long history of working in Horn and East Africa. As well as responding to emergencies, they also need to support communities to tackle climate change and adapt to its impacts. CAFOD’s work is transforming the lives of people by building up their resilience to climate change, so that they can continue to live on the land and earn a decent living from it. Programmes range from supporting communities to better conserve water, or growing their vegetables in a sack, to helping people to access clean sources of energy, through the installation of solar panels in some of the remotest communities that do not have access to the electricity grid.

We may be poor and in many cases marginalised within society but we have been speaking out on the impact of climate change for many years. It’s time for people in other countries who still have the luxury of closing their eyes and ears, to listen to our voices.

For more information, read CAFOD’s new report on the impacts of climate change – What have we done? How the changing climate is hitting the poorest hardest.

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