AFRICA: Pastoralists grapple with climate change

Pastoralists are among the worst affected by a changing climate

Photo: Melvin Chibole/ActionAid - Pastoralists water their herds in Mandera, northeast Kenya (file photo): Pastoralists are among the worst affected by a changing climate

NAIROBI, 28 January 2009 (IRIN) – As many as 250 million people in Africa may not have enough water to meet their basic needs by 2020 because of climate change, a specialist in poverty, environment and climate change said on 27 January.

“The day-to-day impacts of climate change, such as higher temperatures and erratic rainfall, are increasing many people’s vulnerability to hazards,” Charles Ehrhart, the poverty, environment and climate change network coordinator for CARE International, told policy-makers and representatives of pastoralists from the Horn, eastern and central Africa, at a consultative meeting on ways of mitigating the humanitarian effects of climate change on pastoral areas.

The two-day meeting was one of a series organised by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the African Union (AU), aimed at developing a continent-wide policy framework to secure and protect the lives, livelihoods and rights of pastoralists in Africa.

Ehrhart said by 2020, climatic changes would have contributed to water stress, land degradation, lower crop yields and increased risk of wild fires, resulting in a 50 percent decline in agricultural productivity.

The consequences, he added, would be severe food and water shortages, with affected populations coming under significant pressure to migrate.

“Prolonged droughts exert the greatest pressure on households to move, particularly from rural to urban areas,” he said. “In the Horn of Africa alone, there are more than 20 million pastoralists currently living a lifestyle that is centred on the search for increasingly scarce pasture and water.”

Ehrhart said during the next 20 to 30 years, areas already affected by weather-related hazards would see an increase in their frequency and/or intensity. In addition, areas already affected by drought and floods would expand.

There is an urgent need to address longer-term drivers of food insecurity in marginal agricultural areas

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN - A food trader (file photo): There is an urgent need to address longer-term drivers of food insecurity in marginal agricultural areas

Even though weather-related hazards would get worse, people’s declining capacity to cope with hazard events may be a greater problem.

“We should prepare for more quick- and slow-onset disasters as a result of climatic changes,” he said. “The need for humanitarian assistance will be particularly acute in areas already identified as being at higher risk. Climate change provides an imperative to increase investment in, as well as improve quality and accountability, vis-à-vis disaster preparedness and response.”

Representatives of pastoralists from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Southern Sudan and Uganda made presentations at the consultative meeting on coping and adaptation mechanisms that pastoralists could use to deal with the impact of climate change.

They identified poor governance, marginalisation, lack of or poor access to education and insecurity as some of the issues curtailing pastoralists’ efforts to adapt and cope with climate change.

Moses Ndiyaine, a pastoralist from Tanzania, suggested the creation of a special global fund for pastoralists to help them devise early-warning mechanisms, improve veterinary services and lobby their governments for pastoralist-friendly legislation.

Coping strategies

Jeanine Cooper, OCHA-Kenya head of office, said there was an urgent need to address longer-term drivers of food insecurity in marginal agricultural areas to enable vulnerable populations build resilience by supporting coping and adaptive strategies.

She said poor and erratic rainfall, reduced maize production due to post-election violence in early 2008 and high costs of farm inputs, as well as high fuel costs, had precipitated a food crisis in Kenya.

“Climate change will gradually ratchet up the risks and vulnerabilities, putting pressure on already over-stretched coping strategies and magnifying inequalities,” Cooper said.

Supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, OCHA and the AU hope to have, within a year, a set of outcomes focusing on advocacy to improve disaster risk reduction and management of climate change across the continent, eventually leading to a continent-wide policy on pastoralism.

Another workshop on ways of strengthening pastoralists’ resilience and adaptive capacity in a changing climate is scheduled for mid-2009.

“There is a need to get a clear picture of the humanitarian need that climate change is generating and will generate in pastoral regions of Africa,” Besida Tonwe, the head of OCHA’s central and eastern Africa’s regional office, said.

Source: IRIN

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