As the year winds down, it is a good time to reflect on how the effects of climate change have impacted the lives and livelihoods of some of the most vulnerable people in the country.
This year has seen some of the most difficult circumstances especially for those living in arid and semi-arid areas. Livelihoods have been severely impacted by multiple shocks over the past year.
According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, counties in northern Kenya received less than 30 percent of normal rainfall — the worst short rains season in decades. The inadequate rainfall has wiped out pastures and exacerbated food and water shortages. Only two months ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared drought a national disaster.
The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) estimates that at least 2.4 million people are severely food-insecure and adopting irreversible coping strategies to meet minimum food needs.
For farming households, below-average harvests have resulted in reduced household income, limiting ability to purchase food as household food stocks decline. In pastoral areas, below-average rangeland regeneration has negatively impacted livestock production, resulting in below-average milk production and consumption and high prices of staple food.
Access to water continues to be an urgent concern for both humans and livestock. Many open water sources— including rivers, water pans, and dams— dry up across pastoral and marginal agricultural livelihood zones.
Characteristically, women have borne the brunt of all this, as they are highly dependent on climate-sensitive work. Climate change continues to negatively impact the natural resources necessary for women to eke out a living from farming, livestock production and water collection. This limits them from earning a living and supporting their families.
Due to income inequalities, disparities in resource distribution and cultural limitations, many women have less economic power. Thus, their options, in terms of adaptation and surviving effects of climate change, are quite limited. For instance, they cannot invest in drought-resistant crops or irrigation to reduce dependence on rain-fed agriculture.
As a result, impoverished women and girls are forced to engage in unsustainable environmental practices to maintain a livelihood, such as deforestation. This creates a negative feedback loop — in which livelihood practices like cutting down trees for firewood or burning wood to make charcoal, significantly degrade household and local ecosystems and air quality and cause health risks.
These practices leave communities even more vulnerable to flooding and loss of topsoil that impacts agricultural production.
In addition to the impacts of climate change on women’s livelihoods, there is gender-based violence. Though they may seem unrelated, the truth of the matter is that as climate change puts a strain on resources necessary for women to earn a living and support their families, it predisposes women more to the risk of GBV including intimate partner violence, child marriage to cope with scarcity and sexual exploitation.
So what can we do?
Women constitute about half of Kenya’s population. They produce, hold families together and nurture future generations. Shielding them from the effects of climate change and hence GBV is not only the right thing to do but also the sensible one.
Businesses must stand to be counted. Through corporate sustainability initiatives, businesses can invest in supporting and promoting the sustainability of women’s livelihoods.
This can include climate-resilient technologies, for affordable clean energy sources, drought-resistant crops, renewable energy-powered mechanisms for irrigation among others. It is also important to involve women in developing new technologies to ensure that they are adaptive, appropriate and sustainable.
More investment is necessary for supporting existing community-organised women’s groups, providing them with funding for long-term sustainability
More can be done to increase access to resources, including credit, extension and training services, information and technology to boost women’s resilience. Also, women have the right to be included in decision-making.
Okwaroh is executive director, Africa Centre for People Institutions and Society (Acepis)