Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Kenya’s rural communities putting duty bearers to task over impacts of climate change

Upon retiring from his teaching profession and uncertain about the next steps in his life, Luke Kapchanga, a resident of Kaboywo village in Mt Elgon sub-county, Bungoma County, and now an environmental defender and climate activist, was unaware of the impending adverse effects of climate change that would impact lives in his community.

Western Kenya, Kapchanga’s home area, is grappling with the impacts of climate change. He demonstrates how he can no longer partake in the agricultural activities that have been the mainstay for him and his family despite the significant contribution of such activities to the Gross Domestic Product of both the local and national governments. His farm faces constant flooding during heavy rainfall, and the persistent threat of landslides has propelled him into activism.

Mt Elgon is a volcanic mountain located shared by Kenya and Uganda. The mountain has remained one of the water tower, supplying Rivers; Turkwel, Nzoia and Malakisi. Records indicate that at 4,000 square kilometres, Mt Elgon has the largest volcanic base in the world, and largest solitary, volcanic mountain in East Africa.

Historically, at the foot of the mountain are plains inhabited by people whose main economic activity have been farming, having to depend on the springs from the mountain, and the high aquifer wells drilled near the mountain.

However, impacts of climate change, and uncontrolled human activities are slowly but surely changing the tides here.

Notably, communities in Mt Elgon consist of small-scale farmers, household incomes are meager, and most local people have little or no information about climate change. Community members engage in their daily activities. 

Conversations about the adverse effects of climate change are discussed in lavish hotels and not in the local communities where they deserve to be addressed

Luke Kapchanga

Nearby is a small river that the community depends on, but is flooded and contaminated. A woman carrying her child at the back is fetching the contaminated water for use. Engaging her in the conversation about water safety, she states, “We have no option but to use this water in the kitchen and still drink it with our children because we have no option left.”

She also mentioned that there is the likelihood of the river drying up. This is an accurate depiction of the local community’s predicament—they face uncontrollable challenges. How are they coping with this situation? 

Kapchanga emphasises that he cannot engage in agricultural activities during short rains or dry seasons as they often go to waste before harvesting. Additionally, human activities have been associated with adverse climate change effects, and there are no policies in place to ensure a reduction in the emission of gases.

According to reports from Kenya Humanitarian impact of heavy rains and flooding | ReliefWeb , more than 60 people have died and an estimated 136,025 people (27,205 households) were displaced due to flooding in the country as of November 2023. 

A report  in April 2023 from the Kenya Red Cross indicates that Bungoma County grappled with heavy rainfall, resulting in the destruction of crops and an unspecified number of livestock being swept away by flash floods in Cheskaki and Kapokwen in Cheptais, Mt. Elgon.

Addressing the Climate Issues in Communities 

Luke Kapchanga ( Environmental activist and defender )

The frequency of climate change impact is rising, marked by the intensification of extreme weather conditions such as excess flooding. However, there exists a gap in understanding the impact of climate change on communities to the financial requirements for addressing the situation.

According to findings from Afrobarometer’s “Let the people have a say,” 53% report being aware of climate change. Concerning climate-change awareness, urban residents, economically affluent citizens, and highly educated respondents exhibit a better understanding of its impacts compared to their demographic counterparts residing in rural areas.

The survey further reveals that among those aware of climate change, 83 per cent believe it is making life in Kenya worse, and a substantial majority emphasise the need for “a lot more” effort from the government to combat climate change. Additionally, only 41 per cent of Kenyans believe their government is doing a good job in addressing climate change.

Although we have an organisation that is trying to make community members understand the adverse changing effects, we are stranded on where to get support, and it is difficult for us to move forward

Petronilla Pkumu

To tackle local climate issues, various community-based organisations have been established, aiming to actively involve their members in adapting to and building resilience against climate challenges. Other organisations have specific approaches targeting women, youth, people with disabilities, and the broader community.

SOET-CBO is among the community-based organisations endeavouring to involve community members in enhancing their lives through community projects. Petronilla Pkumu, the chairperson of this CBO, asserts that community members recognise the need for a shift in their approach to activities but lack support from both local and national governments.

“Although we have an organisation that is trying to make community members understand the adverse changing effects, we are stranded on where to get support, and it is difficult for us to move forward,” she says. 

Civil societies are also on the frontline to building a community-centred approach by enhancing local communities’ climate awareness and education. 

Prof Nyukuri Barasa, an environmental activist working with the civil society in western Kenya  states, “It  is evident community voices need to be amplified due to the challenges they are undergoing, and we need to hold accountable those in power for they are aware of what the communities are going through to survive this crisis.” 

Community voices on resilience.

Accountability of Local and National Government in addressing Climate Change

Kenya has taken steps to embrace multi-level climate governance, involving national, local, and non-state actors in climate action. While both levels of government allocate significant funds to address climate change, a noticeable gap is emerging between commitments and tangible benefits for vulnerable populations.

In the 2022/2023 budget, the national government increased funds to local governments to support the implementation of development projects and deliver essential services in their respective regions.

Despite the government’s commitment to environmental conservation and responding to climate change impacts in the socio-economic transformation agenda within the 2022/2023 budget allocation, there is a decrease from the previous allocation.

The budget allocation for environmental management and protection is set at Sh3.8 billion, with an additional Sh3.6 billion allocated to stimulate local climate action.

Reuben M Wambui the founder of Kenya Climate Directory in a publication ‘Breaking Financing Barriers for a Just Climate Transition in Africa’ explores why the African continent needs interventions that can break barriers for the countries to access funds needed for climate action, stating that for accountability, collaborations from governments, private sectors, multilateral institutions, and other organisations can be a way of solving the climate crisis. 

According to the research, 75 per cent of the Paris Agreement climate finance pledge of 100 billion US Dollars to developing countries is not deployed or has been misdirected, with the overall climate funding gap estimated at 2.8 trillion US Dollars.

Local county governments have a climate change policy with guiding principles of accountability in mobilising and utilising financial resources to benefit all communities, including marginalised and vulnerable communities. Notably, government policies play a crucial role in resource distribution, and there are existing disparities, including climate funding to local communities. However, the actions are not related to the affected populations.

“Conversations about the adverse effects of climate change are discussed in lavish hotels and not in the local communities where they deserve to be addressed ” stated Kapchanga.

Government strategies to save the people

Elsewhere, Caren Wanyonyi, a local leader working in the disaster management department in the Bungoma County local government, states,

“There are funds that have been allocated to ensure that people getting affected by climate change benefit, and the government is accountable to mitigation and adaptation processes in climate change.”

However, she clarifies that ensuring the support reaches the affected population takes considerable time, leaving many without benefits from the program, or perhaps only a few individuals benefiting.

There are funds that have been allocated to ensure that people getting affected by climate change benefit, and the government is accountable to mitigation and adaptation processes in climate change

Caren Wanyonyi

Kapchanga, experiencing the adverse effects of climate change, possesses just enough knowledge to survive. His experience, along with that of the surrounding community, underscores the importance of amplifying community voices on the negative impacts of climate change.

It is evident there are efforts by communities to adopt strategies that enhance their understanding of how climate change affects daily activities. Nevertheless, education and awareness campaigns in local communities, backed by governmental support, can fortify resilience and prepare communities for climate change impacts.

There is a call for the government to be accountable, ensuring meaningful participation in climate justice by guaranteeing the involvement of local communities for positive change.

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