KIRUKU: Nature is so unforgiving, we are paying for the sins of our fathers
The words of the late Nobel laureate Prof Wangari Maathai – that Mother Nature was generous but also unforgiving – must be ringing a bell in the minds of regional citizens as they contend with the ravages of prolonged drought.
The drought being experienced across the region has affected large areas that have experienced dry weather and consequently low levels of water. The result has been the skyrocketing of food prices. People as well as livestock are dying in droves as the food and water shortage bites. Yet water is one of the most essential commodities for human survival, second only to the air we breathe.
The rise in food and fuel prices in the region has consequently led to an increase in inflation figures. This is expected to continue rising as countries raise fuel prices.
In Uganda, for example, poor weather conditions that have led to food shortages in many parts of the country. In December, the annual food crop inflation rose to 10.8 per cent from 7.2 per cent recorded in November.
Although there was an increase in the prices of food items in Kenya, the inflation dropped slightly to 6.35 per cent from a nine-month high of 6.68 per cent, a drop attributed to falling prices of cooking gas. In Tanzania, an increase in the prices of food commodities in December pushed the inflation rate to 7.4 per cent, up from 6.4 per cent recorded in November.
The situation is set to become worse as drought bites in most parts of the region. In Kenya, just months after the government spent Ksh5 billion ($50 million) in addition to allocating each county government Ksh20 million ($200,000) during the recent heavy floods caused by El Nino rains, a further Ksh5 billion ($50 million) has been set aside to mitigate drought in parts of the country heavily affected by the ongoing crisis.
It is unacceptable that just months after spending millions of dollars to mitigate floods caused by heavy rains, a country should spend more millions to deal with drought. This is a clear show of lack of proper planning and long-term mitigating solution.
It is obvious that the greatest sufferers during times of drought are women and school going children, especially girls, who have to drop out of school and walk long distances in search of water. Cases have been reported of school going children, especially in pastoral and nomadic communities, who have dropped out of school as they traverse vast areas in search of water and pasture for their livestock. This has of course negatively affected their academic performance, as a result driving the vicious circle of poverty in such families and in the larger community as a whole.
The social and economic effects of drought are catastrophic and must be dealt with if we are to ensure human lives are protected and livestock is saved from a certain death. Drought can have serious health, social, economic and political impacts, with far-reaching consequences.
Hunger and famine are major causes of social crimes as people search for means of survival. Drought often creates a lack of clean water for drinking, negatively affecting public sanitation and personal hygiene, which can lead to a wide range of life-threatening diseases. The problem of water access is critical: every year, millions fall sick or die due to a lack of clean water and sanitation, and droughts only make the problem worse.
The price of electricity has hit an all-time high across the region, thanks to the low levels of water in dams. The regional partner states mostly rely on hydroelectric dams for electricity. Drought has greatly reduced the amount of water stored in reservoirs behind the dams, reducing the amount of electricity generated.
Only recently, acres of the Aberdare forest went up in flames due to the dry spell, causing death and injury and as well as extensive damage to property and food supplies.
It is commonplace that when a precious commodity such as water is in short supply, and a corresponding lack of food arises, people will compete — and eventually fight and kill — to secure enough water to survive. Some believe that the current Syrian civil war initially started after 1.5 million rural Syrians fled the drought-stricken rural areas for the cities, triggering unrest.
It is therefore paramount for the region not only to research and document ways of mitigating drought, but real work must be done on the ground if the cycle of long rains followed by biting drought is to come to an end.
The region must invest in modern large-scale water harvesting and storage means to cushion citizens during unexpected drought seasons. Investing in alternative agriculture and traditional farming methods by planting drought resistant crops is not an option but a necessity if we are to fight hunger, eliminate poverty and ensure food security.