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Turkana in northern Kenya is one of the driest regions of the East African nation. This 77,000 square kilometre county receives an average of just 200mm of rain annually, compared to a national average of 680mm. And with three consecutive rain seasons failing since 2020, many residents are now faced with food scarcity, one of the painful effects of an ongoing drought. According to Peter Eripete, Turkana County’s Head of Public Service, the effects of drought are hardest felt by the residents who are mainly pastoralists. Their reliance on livestock means that when their livestock die, their income levels fall drastically, affecting entire families’ food security. In Kangirenga Village in Katilu, an administrative Ward in southern Turkana, we found Lokutan Amaler preparing her only meal for the day - boiled maize. Food has been hard to come by for Lokutan and her family. “I had nothing to eat. All my food storage containers are empty. If I had not received this maize from a well wisher, I would not have had anything to eat today” Lokutan explained as she stirred the boiling maize in a cooking pot over a three-stone fire. Traditionally, the Turkana people have always been dependent on their livestock for sustenance. Whenever they need to buy foodstuffs or household supplies, they sell a goat or cow at the market and with the money received, make the necessary purchases. But with the shortage of rains leading to a lack of pasture, many cows, goats and even camels have died, leading to a loss of income for many across this vast county. To get out of the recurring cycle of lack of food whenever drought visits, a few people have now diversified their sources of sustenance. Lokutan has planted green grams a short walk from her home. Her garden is part of a 10-acre agriculture project initiated by Panafricaire. Eunice Eseison, who coordinates the farming project for Panafricaire says “Convincing the residents to take up farming was an uphill task. Though a few saw the sense it made, it took us very long to convince many that farming was something they could do profitably because it went against their culture”. But with time, those who enrolled in the project including Lokutan have seen the benefits after finding an alternative source of food at every harvest, and income when the excess is sold in the local market. While the work done by organizations like PanAfricaire to mitigate the effects of drought are commendable, food security still remains a concern in Turkana. Greater investments are needed to have more land under cultivation with improved farming practices that will increase productivity from the land. This will allow greater year-round harvests for Lokutan and other farmers, ensuring that they are always cushioned from the harmful effects of the drought.
There is growing evidence of regreening in the Sahel. It is widespread. It cuts across the entire area, and it’s dynamic. In fact, almost all of West Africa is experiencing this regreening that is considered the ultimate weapon in the fight against global warming. Sahelians also growing valuable trees that act as natural air conditioners, provide food and ertilize the land in the Sahel in ways that could be making a difference to resilience that is far better than elsewhere in the world.
The establishment of the Intergovernmental Working Group (IWG) on Drought is welcome news. This new inter-governmental process has immense value addition to the immediate positive outcomes of saving lives, livestock, rangelands and livelihoods in case of drought. It will improve major drought driven insecurity in some of the world’s most fragile areas by strengthening policy actions and improving coordination during implementation.
Is climate change the force behind the mass migrations into Europe? Is the rising radicalization and extremist behavior emerging in places like Pakistan and the Sahel region in sub-Saharan Africa linked to drought or climate change in any way? These are legitimate questions. And, although we lack sufficient evidence now that is supported by robust data to make very firm claims, history offers some lessons, which suggest that we should prepare for the worst now, and hope that the future reality will prove us wrong