NEWS. - Climate change effects are becoming a growing concern for the health of indigenous people living in the Turkana region in Kenya. Human Rights Watch highlighted this issue in a full report entitled “There is No Time Left: Climate Change, Environmental Threats and Human Rights in Turkana County, Kenya” prior to the climate change negotiations that will take place in Bonn, Germany between 19 October and 23 October 2015.
The Report made by Human Rights Watch claims that the combination of climate change and population growth is now an urgent treat to the people living in the Turkana region. As Joseph Amon, health and human rights Director at Human Rights Watch confessed, “Lake Turkana is in danger of disappearing, and the health and livelihood of the indigenous peoples of the region along with it.”
The Effects of Climate Changes on Human Rights
Climate change effects currently happening are becoming a burden on countries with limited resources as well as a challenge to make sure that vulnerable populations are being protected and human rights are respected as well. The climate changes have important consequences such as the changing precipitations patterns (such as drought or shorter rainfall) that have a negative impact on health as well as contribute to food insecurity, migration or even an increase in the number of conflicts. This is not a new issue, since in the past decade, the UN Human Rights Council has already adopted several Resolutions pointing out the consequences of climate change on the realization of human rights. Moreover UN Human Rights experts have already mentioned multiple times that the response to climate change needs to protect as well as fulfill human rights. Unfortunately the situation is only getting worse.
The Struggle of the Turkana Region
Although this is not a recent issue, we realize today that climate change is having an uneven impact across the globe. The countries that are mostly affected by it are low-income countries, which are not able to prevent and prepare efficiently for the consequences that climate change could bring along in the near future. Human Rights Watch report focused on one region in particular, the Turkana region in Kenya. It is becoming the home of a rapidly growing population and one of the poorest in Kenya. The population in the region has grown dramatically in the last two decades, going from 855,393 people in 2009 to 1,256,152 people in 2015. Meanwhile the temperature has also been rising tremendously, with the minimum and maximum air temperatures increasing between 2 and 3°C (3.5 and 5.5°F) in the period going from 1967 to 2012. The rain patterns have also changed, with the overall annual rainfall remaining at very low levels.
This region is particularly affected by these climate changes due to the fact that the population mainly relies on natural resources for food and livelihoods. These climate changes will eventually have a massive impact on the ability of the population in the region to have access to water, food and health, granted that the population of the Turkana region has already a history of malnutrition and one of the poorest health indicators in the country.
Lake Turkana is threatened
Some hydroelectric and irrigation projects in Ethiopia are becoming an important threat to Lake Turkana, the world largest desert lake: the project pursued by Ethiopia are including some water-intensive irrigated cotton and sugar plantations as well as irrigation canals in Ethiopia’s Omo River Basin, which use the great majority of the water of Lake Turkana and will eventually lead to a dramatic reduction in the water supply of the lake itself. The reduction of water level of the lake will have tremendous impact on the people of the region as it will increase levels of salinity in the lake as well as raise temperature, which will bring a diminution of fish breeding in the area and eventually reduce biological productivity. This is a crucial issue since the whole region depends on the river alone: “How will I survive when my animals have died and the lake has disappeared? “How will I survive when the drought sweeps me away and sends me to my grave?” complains an elderly man whose livelihood depends on the livestock.
The government of Kenya and the international community need to act
The government has acknowledged the impact of climate change and made several steps towards it, but unfortunately the adoption of a climate change law has been delayed several times already. At this stage, more actions need to be taken. The government needs to realize the impact that these changes will have in the realization of human rights, it should identify the most vulnerable people in the country and takes steps to ensure that human rights standards are being respected. Moreover it needs to make sure that they will have access to food, water and decent health conditions to prepare for the years to come.
Taking care and addressing climate change should become a national but also an international priority. The upcoming meeting in Bone will include discussions of how human rights and will be integrated into an international agreement on climate change. This meeting will be the last negotiating session before the summit at the end of the year in Paris, where we expect the adoption of a new international agreement on climate change that could potentially help countries and especially vulnerable populations living in poor regions, such as the population who is currently struggling in the Turkana region.
HRW (2015). Kenya: Climate Changes Threatens Rights. October 15th 2015. IN: HRW (Online). http://www.hrw.org/news/2015/10/15/kenya-climate-change-threatens-rights Accessed on October 15th 2015.
HRW (2015). There is no Time Left: Climate Change, Environmental Threats and Human Rights in Turkana County, Kenya. October 15th 2015. IN: HRW (Online) http://www.hrw.org/report/2015/10/15/there-no-time-left/climate-change-environmental-threats-and-human-rights-turkana Accessed on October 15th 2015.