What you need to know:
- Many communities in the Horn of Africa are battered by the effects of climate change and violence, causing displacements and deepening humanitarian crises.
- What makes it worse is that many of those countries have recently suffered from conflict or violence; clearly, conflict and climate change make for a miserable combination.
Climate change is upending lives across Africa. Okello Ligolo, a fisherman from Kisumu County, spent Christmas in a secondary school after floods forced him from his home. He recalls when major floods were less frequent, occurring once a decade or so. Now they seem to occur yearly.
The flooding, attributed to rainfall from the Indian Ocean dipole, affected 160,000 people in Kenya, 570,000 in Ethiopia and 550,000 in Somalia. Djibouti witnessed two years of rain in a day, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said.
The Kenya Red Cross assisted more than 6,500 severely affected households — mostly in central and western Kenya — with relief supplies, medical assistance and material to set up camps. Crops and livestock were victims of the high water, raising fears of food insecurity.
The climate is changing everywhere, but East Africa is being particularly hit hard. A quarter of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change are in this region: Somalia, Eritrea, Burundi, Sudan and Ethiopia.
What makes it worse is that many of those countries have recently suffered from conflict or violence; clearly, conflict and climate change make for a miserable combination.
Imagine the suffering of flood victims like Okello if war were to be added to the mix. This scenario is called “double vulnerability” and given the increasing climate turbulence, even more people might suffer this double whammy in future.
Many communities in the Horn of Africa are battered by the effects of climate change and violence, causing displacements and deepening humanitarian crises.
During my visit to Nairobi, which begins tomorrow, we and our Kenya Red Cross and International Federation of Red Cross colleagues and other humanitarian players will call attention to the climate-security nexus.
Preliminary data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) suggests that in Ethiopia last year, there were 770,000 displacements triggered by violence and 360,000 by disasters, totalling 1.1 million. In Somalia, 500,000 displacements were sparked by disasters and 180,000 by conflict and violence (680,000).
Those are massive numbers. No wonder, the TIME person of 2019 was a 16-year-old climate change advocate, who is using her voice to call the world’s leaders and citizens to pay closer attention and respond with urgency to climate change.
Given the scale of these crises, a short-term humanitarian response is no longer enough. We need to build communities’ resilience to climate crises, especially in areas already weakened by conflict and violence. To save lives, we need to act early and help people adjust to increasingly erratic rains and weather patterns, ideally adopting ‘climate-compatible action’ in our work.
We must continue to plan for the long-term as well as invest in new financial models so as to respond to the needs in these communities. Countries need to improve water and energy management with increased use of dams to hold water during wet seasons for use when it is dry.
Communities should also have access to education, training and jobs, through microeconomic initiatives.
Last February, the African Union asked for climate change to be considered in the African Peace and Security Architecture, a reaffirmation of the exacerbating effect of climate change on inter-communal clashes. Pastoralists would be the ones most likely to benefit from this initiative.
Let us aim to do as much as we can to prevent people like Okello from having to resort to emergency housing and that as many people as possible across East Africa know their home remains safe during holidays.
Mr Maurer is the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). @PMaurerICRC