Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bone Dry

A couple of years ago, my wife and I visited a small Samburu village about 250 kilometers north of Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi. The villagers were warm and friendly, but things were pretty tough for them. The land was parched, crops were failing and their goat herds were dwindling. Tourists attracted to the local game parks were cutting the area off of their itinerary (hence desperately needed cash flow was vaporizing) because the indigenous wild animals, from lion to kudu and elephant, were migrating south in search of water. Money and resources were increasingly scarce. Marauding bands of well-armed “warriors” from neighboring tribal areas had been known to raid this village looking to make up for the losses nature had imposed on this region.

In this part of East Africa, climate change has pushed temperatures higher, but the biggest toll on the people and animals here has been the profound change in annual waterfall. We read of desertification in the paper; my wife and I witnessed what that word means to human beings being pushed into sequentially graver levels of starvation through no fault of their own. In the extreme northern areas of Kenya bordering on the Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia – locations better known for genocide and violence – the land may no longer be fit for human habitation. Nomads roamed across these borders, seeking changing grazing areas for their livestock. Today, that grass and any precious water that may be present in the earth are rapidly disappearing, seemingly permanently.

The October 25th Los Angeles Times featured an article about this desperation, noting one harsh example: “For centuries, Adam Abdi Ibrahim's ancestors herded cattle and goats across an unforgiving landscape in southern Somalia where few others were hardy enough to survive.
… This year, Ibrahim became the first in his clan to throw in the towel, abandoning his land and walking for a week to bring his family to this overcrowded refugee camp in Kenya…. He's not fleeing warlords, Islamist insurgents or Somalia's 18-year civil war. He's fleeing the weather.
‘I give up,’ said the father of five as he stood in line recently to register at the camp. After enduring four years of drought and the death of his last 20 animals, Ibrahim, 28, said he has no plans to return.”

“Ibrahim is one of an estimated 10 million people worldwide who have been driven out of their homes by rising seas, failing rain, desertification or other climate-driven factors… Norman Myers, an Oxford University professor and one of the first scholars to draw attention to the unfolding problem, estimated that by 2050 there will be more than 25 million refugees attributable to climate change, which will replace war and persecution as the leading cause of global displacement.” The slums of Africa’s cities teem with displaced and desperate people with nothing to do and little hope left.

As the great industrialized nations grapple with new environmental commitments while countering the difficulties imposed on governments and economies everywhere by this financial meltdown – which despite statements from economists to the contrary appears to be anything but over – it is important to keep in mind the life-shattering consequences of doing too little or virtually nothing at all.

I’m Peter Dekom, and I approve this message.

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