BY MACHEL WAIKENDA
Last year, I opined in a column that: “Based on worsening climate trends there is urgent need to establish an institutional, policy and legal framework to effectively manage disaster, risk and ratchet up our level of preparedness… Prior planning in terms of logistics, personnel and infrastructure stands to avert aggravated damage in case of an emergency.”
It is that season again. Just as there appear to be elections looming in every other country, big and small, world leaders are talking seriously about climate change. Only a misguided few people today still deny that climate change could be the bane of civilization as we know it.
But sadly, this topic is muted in our country. It must be politics-as-usual since nobody appears to be addressing the looming drought and threats of a serious fire season in our forests and parched plains.
It is only this week that more than 90 people were hospitalized in Samburu for having eaten a suspect cattle carcass to assuage hunger pangs. Local leaders claim this has been caused by hunger caused by drought in the region.
Recently, a chief in Baringo County was arrested for stealing and selling relief food meant for rations for the hungry in the region.
Meanwhile, an acute water shortage has hit some areas of the Coast region hard with experts warning that the country is likely to face a food shortage and led to an increase in prices charged by vendors.
Make no mistake, there is increasing climate instability. But even as the deserts of central Asia expand, extreme weather conditions, ranging from heat waves, severe snowfalls, blizzards, and drought in various parts of the globe are routinely tucked away into “Other News” segments even in mainstream media that ought to know better.
There are alarming reports that the world’s oceans are warming, polar icecaps are melting, lakes that are sources and reservoirs of fresh water thawing early, rain forests decimated by loggers, farmers and settlers, while the Sahara Desert is creeping ever so slowly southward. But of what use will population control strategies, energy conservation and embracing of alternative sources of power if there’s no planet to call home?
Am I alarmist? Perhaps not. I am just reading the demographics and weather entrails available all around us. They tell me that closer home, the county governments of Baringo, Laikipia, Turkana, Samburu, parts of Nyeri, and Garissa have seen a spike in Kenyans asking for relief food.
This should worry us greatly. Firstly, because Kenya is a water-scarce nation. Secondly, there has been prolonged drought countrywide, and third, because we Kenyans are well known for having collective amnesia of events that always threaten to take us to the brink of the abyss.
That the Meteorological Department categorically states that the blazing hot sun is not going away anytime soon, policy makers and politicians should be scrambling to don their thinking caps. Reason? We are a country that relies on rain-fed agriculture, big-time. And any looming prospect of rain failure should be a national disaster-in-waiting.
So, if there is no rain in the month ahead, what kinds of stocks of grain are immediately available in the Strategic Grain Reserve? We need to also know whether the National Drought Management Authority has the capacity to advice National and County Governments of the hungry days ahead.
We need to make public the interventions that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority have in place in the event the current patchy drought pans out into being a countrywide famine. Indeed, are there existing schemes to harvest what little water is available to quench this thirsty nation in the days ahead?
Whose work is it to dig water pans and plan for dams and other reservoirs? Has the National Treasury anticipated the impact and chaos food and water scarcity could foment? This would be the time to buy out livestock from pastoralists instead of leaving their herds of cattle, goats, sheep and camels to die due to drought. In turn, the beneficiaries can use the money to subsidize their food and avoid dying of hunger or consuming uninspected meat and poisonous wild fruits.
County governments are the closest institutions on the ground and it would be naive for them not to have ready strategies to prevent their people dying from a fresh famine. Have any of them approached the National Government for help in finding a sustainable solution to potential food and water shortage?
Nature does not care what we believe, and when nature unleashes her fury, we all suffer, strong, weak, rich and poor alike. Let us not be forced to re-invent the Kenyans-4-Kenya that served us so well before, but learn from the past lessons on water scarcity and our perennial unpreparedness.
(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)