I met Maria Akingol and many of the village elders in my trip to the north of Kenya. She is no older than me. She lives with her children in a little village called Nanipi along Lake Turkana in the north of Kenya. It means “water” in the local dialect but the water has long dried up because of a prolonged drought in this whole region.
Lake Turkana which is a large salt water lake which stretches into Ethiopia is drying up and fish stocks are depleting at a rapid rate as the lake heats up and the salinity increases. We see the impact of climate change dramatically here. People are dependent on NGO’s like the one we work with Feed the Children. In many cases it is the main supply of food that they receive once a month. The soil has degraded, the animals the people have raised have died in numbers and because the rains are not coming as regularly as before and there is no grazing. The infrastructure here is minimal. The trip by road from Nairobi which is about 700 km away takes 2 days. In areas along the way they need an armed escort to prevent raiding by bandits. Climate change, bad governance and no leadership are a toxic mix that strangles hope in this part of the world.
I imagine what we could do here to give people a sense that their lives matter. In discussions with the village elders they hope that Government can drill sóme boreholes to access water for planting some crops and to improve the education system so that children can have skills to work in the cities and send money back to the villages.
Ultimately we see the damage the developed world has wrought on the continent of Africa. These communities have produced no CO 2 emissions. There are no fridges and air conditioners here. No extravagant boats on the lake. These were communities who for generations have eked out a decent living as pastoralists and fishermen. The rich and powerful they have never seen have stolen their livelihoods and these communities are dying as a result.
It is no accident that 13 million people are at risk in the Horn of Africa. Many resourses are diverted to that crisis but Kenyan tribes here also live a precarious existence with chronic levels of malnutrition. The heightened food insecurity affects millions. These are the realities that must be brought to the centre stage of COP 17. It makes me furious that the debate about climate change is dominated by bureaucrats and elites who are so disconnected from its ravages on the poor, especially women whose incomes have plummeted increasing the poverty and inequality amongst poorest people.
But I have a sort of desperate optimism. The people I met are decent upright human beings. They laugh, they cry and you can see the harshness of life etched on their faces. But they remain calm. No chaotic rush for the food supplies. A disciplined and dignified wait for help. I wish those damned elites who rush from meeting to meeting in their air conditioned limousines as the merchant class of poverty can spend a week in a village like this. Maybe they will rediscover their humanity again.
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This article was originally posted in the Daily Maverick.