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28 years ago, Olong’ai used to fetch 30 jerricans of water in 10 minutes. Today her daughters fetch only 15 jerricans for over 3 hours.

The river that used to be a habitat for eels, frogs and even crabs flowing rigorously with gurgle a few decades ago now flows once in a while just a tiny stream of water with nothing much but spirogyra and newts.

Olonga’i a farmer and subsistent pastoralist has lived 85 kilometers West of Hola- the Capital town of Tana District- for almost 52 years. She has seen the climate change from dry to hot, wet to floods, cold to mist, but she says this kind of climate change has never been seen all those years.

The climate nowadays is way beyond what I have seen all my life, no one can predict the weather and the rain never comes like it used to, “says Olonga’i.

In this season the heat is searing through leafless trees accompanying the blowing winds with particles of dust as the truck traverses through the rough terrain.

The temperature almost at 39 degrees celcius and I could not help but frequently wipe off beads of sweat streaming down the sides of my ears with a cooling effect. The temperature had really increased; we were thankful it was not humid.

Olonga’i states that she never imagined the river could reduce to the current size despite the tough times farmers used to face during the dry season.

The mother of five whose husband ceased to exist 10 years ago says when she was much younger, her husband used to take cattle along the river banks to graze.

He used to leave the cattle grazing and take a swim in the river to cool off when the heat became intense in the mid day, “she said portraying a look that depicted rekindled old memories.

Unless you want to go swimming in Tana River and face the wrath of the crocodiles it is very rare to find spots to swim. The water table has receded; most rivers have been depleted owing to the degradation of the environment and lack of awareness regarding conservation of the environment.

Alternative means of survival

Olonga’i says many people stopped farming when rains ceased to come frequently and started cutting down trees, sell them or burn to make charcoal in order to make a living.

Poverty is also widespread in the district thus limiting alternative means of survival. According to the latest population census, the rate of poverty stands at 81% having increased from the previous 72%.  

Fishing which also used to be an income generating activity has now reduced with most fishermen having to travel kilometers away to Tana River to find fish. This still comes at a risk because the river is infested with crocodiles that have been known to bite many people either while fishing or fetching water.

Some famers have also opted to practice farming along the river bank, a decision that has had a negative impact on the river due to pollution through chemicals found in fertilizers among other hazards.

This has caused many locals to clash with law enforcers because according to the famous Riparian law, people are supposed to cultivate at least 30 metres away from the river bank.

Olonga’i says she has seen many farmers struggle endlessly with the police due to this reason.

On the other hand, there have been different efforts from the government and societies in trying to mitigate the impact caused by climate change but the root problem lies within economic gain for survival versus mitigation efforts.

Pastoralism is still being practiced but not like the old days. Animals have become a burden to rear because they need grass and water most of the time. Not many residents are ready to travel more than 15 kilometers to find pastures and water for the animals’ everyday, especially owing to the current insecurity in the region.  

According to a report presented by the United Nations, women are most affected by climate change especially those whose homes are female headed households. They have to take care of the homes and have to walk many kilometers a day to fetch water for domestic use.

Climate change has deep effects surpassing weather changes and going beyond economic, political, social and cultural paradigms.

As I left Hola, I could not help but feel that somewhere on the other side, on the other scale, people who have no part at all in enhancing climate-change still have a bitter future ahead unless someone somewhere on the other scale does something about it.

Of course probably if that someone is one from those countries that contribute the highest to climate change in the continent.

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Comment by Nevill Misigo Kavuludi on March 7, 2013 at 20:59

Understanding climate change at the grassroot level 

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