By sapi08. Global Warming. Published at Wednesday, November 28th, 2018 - 22:55:30 PM.
KAKUMA, Kenya — These barren plains of sand and stone have always known lean times: times when the rivers run dry and the cows wither day by day, until their bones are scattered under the acacia trees. But the lean times have always been followed by normal times, when it rains enough to rebuild herds, repay debts, give milk to the children and eat meat a few times each week.
Times are changing, though. Northern Kenya — like its arid neighbors in the Horn of Africa, where Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson paid a visit last week, including a stop in Nairobi — has become measurably drier and hotter, and scientists are finding the fingerprints of global warming. According to recent research, the region dried faster in the 20th century than at any time over the last 2,000 years. Four severe droughts have walloped the area in the last two decades, a rapid succession that has pushed millions of the world’s poorest to the edge of survival.
Amid this new normal, a people long hounded by poverty and strife has found itself on the frontline of a new crisis: climate change. More than 650,000 children under age 5 across vast stretches of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are severely malnourished. The risk of famine stalks people in all three countries; at least 12 million people rely on food aid, according to the United Nations.
A grandmother named Mariao Tede is among them. Early one recent morning, on the banks of a dry stream, with the air tasting of soot and sand, Ms. Tede stood over a pile of dark embers, making charcoal. A reed of a woman who doesn’t keep track of her age, she said she once had 200 goats, enough to sell their offspring at the market and buy cornmeal for her family. Raising livestock is traditionally the main source of income in the region, because not much food will grow here.
Many of her goats died in the 2011 drought, then many more in the 2017 drought. How many were left? She held up five fingers. Not enough to sell. Not enough to eat. And now, in the dry season, not even enough to get milk. “Only when it rains I get a cup or two, for the kids,” she said.
The most recent drought has prompted some herders to plunder the livestock of rival communities or sneak into nature reserves to graze their hungry droves. Water has become so scarce in this vast county — known as Turkana, in northwestern Kenya — that fetching it, which is women’s work, means walking an average of almost seven miles every day.
Ms. Tede now gathers wood to make charcoal, a process that is stripping the land of its few trees, so that when the rains come, if the rains come, the water will not seep into the earth. On the roadside stood what were once sacks of food aid, now stuffed with charcoal, waiting for customers.
Further along that same road, in a village blessed with a water pump, a herder named Mohammed Loshani offered up his ledger of loss. From 150 goats a little over a year ago, he had 30 left. During the 2017 drought, 10 died one month, a dozen the next.
“If we get rain I can build back my herd,” he said. “If not, even the few I have will die.” He knew no one who had rebuilt their herds to pre-2011 drought levels.
“If these droughts continue,” Mr. Loshoni said, “there’s nothing for us to do. We’ll have to think of other jobs.”
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