By Wambui Gichobi
Damaris Ateyo grew up in a village in Turkana an area the North West of Kenya. The Turkana people are a pastoralist community who depend on water and pasture as their main source of livelihoods. The alternative is always the Lake Turkana, a beautiful Jade Sea that provides a valuable fishing ground in the arid environment. The fresh water lake feeds from two rivers; The Omo from the Ethiopian highlands that provides 90% of the Turkana waters and River Turkwel that only gives 10%. Turkana is an arid land that has rich culture and people have survived the deserts for many years through calculated grazing patterns and a nomadic way of life that avoided the very vulnerable areas. For the Turkana, wells have always provided the clean water they required. Times have changed. A huge aquifer in the Lokitipi area was discovered in 2013. Oil explorations have also been in progress since 2010. Drilling of wells has begun and it’s only a matter of time now before big clouds of smoke are seen leaving the oil wells of Turkana and the land is littered with oil spills.
Ateyo, a student at the Multimedia University of Kenya, like most people in her village does not understand why a lot more people in her village are getting sick. “The water tastes funny” she says. “My people think it is curses but I think not.” It may be a long while before science can demonstrate the correlation between the oil exploration and the pollution of water in the wells of the surrounding villages. To add the recurring droughts in Turkana, the villages certainly do not need to compete for the little water resources available to them. “Even after the discovery of the aquifer, we are yet to see its benefits. We still have to walk long distances to get water for basic survival. The hope the aquifer brings might be squashed if it is contaminated by the industrial activities of the oil company,” says Ateyo.
Indeed it is still fresh in our minds that in Ogoniland, Nigeria numerous oil spills continue to occur even after the murder of Ken Saro Wiwa and the Ogoni 8 martyrs of activism who died fighting for eco-justice and to stop the pillage of their land. The Ogoni oil spills in the last 52 years are equated to the Exxon Valdez spill every single year. This is often without any clean ups or compensation to affected communities.
What is clear is that many communities like Ateyo’s continue to suffer quietly and in most cases, they have no voice to represent their rights to their land and to clean water. In 2011 at the COP 17 in Durban, on the eve of the negotiations, rains pounded the city and its outskirts causing the River to flood and to displace tens of people and with it, their livelihoods. In 2012 during COP 18 in Doha, typhoon Bopha struck Mindanao in southern Philippines leaving over a thousand dead and tens of thousands homeless. But still, leaders in COP negotiation table came up with vague and voluntary pledges to a Global Climate Fund that received applause from some quarters. In 2013 during the COP 19 in Warsaw, Typhoon Haiyan hit Philippines and within hours, 6100 people were dead and an estimated 4 million people were left homeless washing away entire villages, communities and livelihoods. It was the deadliest typhoon to ever hit the area. Yet again, in 2014 during the COP 21 negotiations in Lima, Typhoon Ruby made devastating effects on efforts of communities that were rebuilding their lives after Typhoon Haiyan the previous year.
There are a million of these impacts every year on reduced and also on bigger scales across the globe that claim so many lives and affect millions of others. Since they come in different names, these impacts of climate change are not addressed at source – A few thousand dead due to prolonged droughts in one area, a few houses and cars washed away by El-nino rains in another country, a few buried in landslides and mud-slides in another area and a few others dead from a typhoon in another continent. Instead of compelling leaders to make genuine efforts towards a binding commitment for action by all nations, we have continuously deviated from this. Science is clear as is day light; by 2020, emissions of CO2e have to be less that 38Gt to limit the increase of global temperatures to 1.5o. Current trends mean that we will reach global emissions of 57Gt of CO2e by 2020,a sure guarantee for a chaotic climate.
In order to protect the vulnerable communities and for our responsibility to future generations, we cannot continue transferring out emissions by using Carbon credits, REDD+ or any other mechanism that will sidetrack us from the overall mission: to cut down emissions. Sure, we must continue to create carbon sinks but it is all moot and in no way will they abate the climate crisis if we do not reduce emissions. Climate smart agriculture, carbon markets and any other such mechanisms should be a complementary of reduced emissions and not an alternative.
There is no more time for fiddling about with voluntary commitments over reaching a climate deal. To get changes the earth direly needs, COP must bring a systems change. In the calm of the Pre-COPs, the quietly ominous cycles of pollution continue. Degradation is incessant and the vulnerable continue taking the heat. The cycle must be altered and a chain-reaction has to be sparked by all nations through a robust, systematic and intentional binding commitment.
As leaders drag their feet, millions of people around the world continue to grapple with droughts, floods, typhoons, scarce water and degrading land resources due to pollution and desertification. The issue for the world leaders is to nip the issues in the bud. We must tackle global warming and consequent climate change impacts by cutting down emissions. There is no other way.