Failure to address climate change at UN conference in Nairobi would threaten centuries old way of life

Published: 9 November 2006

Oxfam today warned that unchecked climate change could deal a crippling blow to a way of life that has existed for centuries because more frequent and intense droughts threaten the livelihoods of pastoral communities, such as the Turkana of Northern Kenya.

"Governments meeting at the UN climate change conference in Nairobi only have to look to a few hundred miles north to see how climate change is having an immediate and devastating effect on people's lives. Under threat is the way of life of pastoral communities. People such as the Turkana are on the front line of the injustice of man-made climate change. They are least responsible for climate change but are amongst the worst affected," said Antonio Hill, Senior Policy Adviser, Oxfam.

According to the Kenyan government pastoral communities have suffered most due to recent climate extremes in the country. Kenya is used to extreme weather patterns but they are becoming more frequent and intense. The 1999-2000 drought was the worst in living memory and was followed by a severe drought in 2004-2005.

The Turkana called the latest drought Atiaktiak ng'awiyei, 'the one that divided homes' because so many migrated away from home to survive. There has been, in effect, an almost continuous drought problem since 1999, which was when the Kichutanak drought, the drought that 'swept away everything, even animals', struck.

The latest report from the Kenyan meteorological office, released at the Nairobi climate change conference, shows that the northern regions have seen a steady decline in mean annual rainfall over the last 50 years.

Pastoral communities, which rely heavily on natural resources and their livestock, have over centuries developed a way of life that has coped with the vagaries of the climate, even severe droughts. However more frequent extreme weather means it is more difficult to for them to recover after each incidence of drought.

Climate change compounds their problems. But it is primarily politics that reduces the ability of pastoral communities to cope with climate extremes. Successive government neglect and political marginalisation have had a negative effect on the people of Turkana. Political boundaries and agricultural encroachment restrict the movement of pastoralists to get their herds to grazing grounds and water sources, seriously hampering their ways of coping with drought.

Oxfam is calling on governments at the UN climate change conference to significantly increase funds to help the poorest and most vulnerable adapt to climate change and to agree an accelerated timetable for binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

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