The catastrophic effects of climate change are being felt across the globe. In East Africa, close to 43 million people are affected.
From Kenya to South Sudan and Somalia to Ethiopia all key sectors in the region – health, agriculture, education, food, shelter, water, hygiene, sanitation, tourism and income generation – have been affected by extreme weather events, which have altered the lives and way of life of communities, leading to great loss and damage.
In Somalia, 7.8 million people are experiencing the worst drought in 40 years, following the fourth consecutive failed rain season.
By early September, reports indicated that at least 730 children had died at nutrition centres and thousands more were at risk due to malnutrition.
Access to water is becoming increasingly challenging as most water points have dried up. As a result, the price of water has risen. This forces women and girls to travel long distances in search of this precious commodity, exposing them to gender-based violence (GBV).
Less than 2,000km west, in South Sudan, over 7.74 million people are hungry due to a combination of, among other things, four consecutive years of flooding. Excess rainfall has led to rising water levels that have caused flooding as waters have not receded. Since the beginning of October, floods have displaced more than 900,000 people. The floods have cut off access to those who need help the most, hampering the delivery of aid.
In Kenya, four failed rain seasons have exacerbated the existing drought in 23 of its 47 counties. This has led to almost one million children under five and 115,725 pregnant and lactating women becoming acutely malnourished. At the same time, about 2.4 million livestock – which pastoralist families rely on for sustenance – have died due to drought in six counties.
In Ethiopia, water shortages and lack of access to food have raised malnutrition not only among children but also entire communities.
Between 2019 and 2020, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia experienced two massive locust invasions that devastated vegetation, destroying the livelihoods of millions of pastoralists and farmers.
The fact is, communities that have contributed least to climate change are the most affected by the climate crisis. The region contributes less than one percent of emissions that have led to climate change. Yet from the devastation we are seeing, communities are suffering because of the actions of others. It is therefore imperative that the affected are not left to suffer on their own. Climate justice is essential for these countries.
Between November 6 and 18, all eyes will be on Egypt for the 27th Climate Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP27). One of the key issues that must be addressed is financing for affected countries that have faced loss and damage due to climate change.
Loss and damage refers to the devastating impacts that individuals, communities or countries face as a result of climate change and cannot be avoided by mitigation, adaptation, and any other measures such as disaster risk management. With a loss and damage fund, those affected by climate change could access finance swiftly, in the form of grants, not loans, to mitigate further effects of climate change.
Decades of progress are being eroded in the Horn of Africa due to climate change-induced droughts and floods. To this end, getting serious about loss and damage finance should be addressed as a matter of urgency. This financing should be in the form of grants, not loans, so that the countries are not overburdened by heavy debts because of the financing.
Key blockers who do not want to have discussions on loss and damage need to realise that global south countries face devastating consequences because of loss and damage caused by climate change. There is a need for consensus on discussions on funding arrangements for loss damage to support developing nations affected by the leading emitters. An increase in adaptation and mitigation efforts is necessary, as well as support for humanitarian responses to help the affected.
Another key issue that needs to be addressed during COP27 is gender-just climate action. The impacts of climate change have further highlighted and brought back the glaring gender inequalities that women and girls face.
Unicef has reported that at least 3.6 million children across Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia are at risk of dropping out of school because of the drought. In Somalia, more and more girls are being pulled out of class to support their parents and guardians to look for food. This exposes them to dangers such as female genital mutilation and even child marriage.
A Rapid Gender Analysis by CARE International has found that women often prioritise the limited food available they have to feed their children and spouses. This puts them at risk of malnutrition, particularly those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as this increases the risk of miscarriage and maternal mortality, stillbirth, low birth weight, and stunting for their children, leading to an intergenerational cycle of malnutrition.
At COP27, governments should take a stand to make decisions and actions that ensure gender integration and sexual and reproductive health rights are anchored in all areas of climate policy and climate finance talks.
There is a need for systematic monitoring and evaluation to ensure that women's and girls’ rights are protected and preserved. There must be a focus on women with gender-responsive financing, including funding women-led organisations who continue to lead the action at the community level.
The impacts of climate change are here with us now as evidenced by what we are witnessing across the Horn of Africa and South Sudan. The actions and steps we take now are essential to secure a future for the next generation.
Kate Maina-Vorley is the regional director for the East and Central Africa region at CARE International. She has worked in the development and humanitarian sector for over 25 years, championing the rights of girls, women, and marginalised communities across East and Southern Africa.