What you need to know:
- Women and girls in pastoralist communities experience the greatest impacts of climate change.
- It has wide-reaching impacts on the mental health of women and girls in the region.
- climate change has inevitably imposed alterations in their lifestyles, depleting crucial resources and sources of livelihood.
- North Horr Public Health Nurse Nuriah Wario Jilloh says 70 per cent of patients they currently attend to are grappling with mental health.
Women and girls in pastoralist communities experience the greatest impacts of climate change. This amplifies elevated levels of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorders.
The drought currently being experienced in the Northern Kenya region is the worst in the last three decades.
“I constantly live in fear of what will become of my grandson. We go without food for even three to four days, most of the time. It is heart-breaking watching a toddler only surviving on plumb nuts and water,” says Naparon Lekerima, a resident of Siyangan village in Samburu North.
She relates how climate change has inevitably imposed alterations in their lifestyles, depleting crucial resources and sources of livelihood.
Disasters like drought and floods have continued to create a different kind of psychological and psychopathological distress among pastoralist communities with women and girls bearing the brunt of all the ravages.
North Horr Sub-county Public Health Nurse Nuriah Wario Jilloh says climate change has continued to have wide-reaching impacts on the mental health of women and girls in the region.
“I have worked in drought-prone areas for the last ten years and noticed that between 40 to 50 per cent of the pastoralists who live through unpredictable and extreme weather are predisposed to elevated rates of anxiety, depression, PTSD, sleep disorders and suicidal thoughts,” Ms Wario says.
Coping amidst acute food insecurity is gruelling and challenging psychologically and financially for women in the Northern Kenya counties of Marsabit, Samburu and Isiolo, among others.
Ms Wario says a mental health crises looms in the arid and semi-arid regions, noting that the number of those affected could double if no immediate interventions are deployed.
She holds that pastoralist communities are three times more worried about climate change impacts including drought, floods, and wild bushfires, than anything else.
Climate change impacts often visit death and misery upon pastoralist communities with women and girls taking severe beatings. The elevated levels of stress associated with starvation impacts on their mental health, especially in the absence of a strong support system.
For instance, taking up the full burden of bringing up her one-year-old grandson Lengoltei Arbele, has never been easy for Ms Lekerima who says the boy’s mother was too young to bring him up.
She explains that residents here now rely on relief food from humanitarian agencies. When such supplies don’t come, they can go for three to four days without eating.
She says her days and nights are characterized by uncertainty as she keeps swooning with panic and foreboding about what would befall her grandson and the rest of her family.
While it is not surprising that extreme changes in climate have a direct bearing on the mental health and well-being of women and girls, the linkages between sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and climate action have not been highlighted adequately.
Ms Warioh holds that with the continued massive loss of pastoralists’ sources of livelihood, there is an impending epidemic of mental health-related disorders such as anxiety, climate disaster-related post-traumatic stress disorder and future-orientated despondency.
She says nearly 70 per cent of patients they currently attend to are grappling with mental health. Most of them lost their livestock to drought and are now unable to meet their family needs.
Our visit to Kukub Fam village in North Horr Constituency elucidates how women and girls experience the greatest impacts of climate change, amplifying existing gender inequalities.
There is only one borehole in this village of 250 households, and it serves the entire population and their livestock.
Jaro Umuro, a resident, says that even as water scarcity remains a global challenge, the situation in Marsabit remains dire.
She laments that residents here trek for more than 25 kilometres, a day, in search of water.
Kukub Fam village
“I think women are disproportionately impacted by climate change compared to men; we bear its brunt more than anybody else,” Ms Umuro says.
Residents in most parts of North Horr Sub-county including Kukub Fam village, go for several days without bathing due to lack of water.
As a result, women and girls are subjected to embarrassing situations, especially during their menses. Schoolgirls too, skip classes during their monthly periods due to shame.
The drought compounds stress levels among girls and women during this time because they are rendered weak, having lost lots of iron through bleeding, but failing to replenish it with appropriate dietary prescription.
Climate-induced displacement and migration of the pastoralist women and their young children leads to at least 12-14 hours of added work for women. They trek for longer distances or queue for hours to fetch water. For young girls, they drop out of school and help in day-to-day work.
The CEO of a local NGO, Kenya Dryland Education Funds Ahmed Kura, says several pastoralist families in Laisamis Sub-county in Marsabit and Samburu North, have resorted to crackpot idea of marrying off their daughters to elderly men.
Similarly, as climate change impacts threaten to reach a spectacular climax, elderly men too, succumb to mental illnesses or depression after losing nearly all their resources. Upon the deaths of such elderly men, the young girls who were married to them are left with the huge burden of fending for their children single-handedly.
“I think climate change impacts are intricately linked to increasing gender-based violence cases as several young girls are married off to men too old to be their fathers. Parents marry off their girls to get dowry, which is used for buying food,” Mr Kura says.