January 5, 2010
By Greig Whitehead
For millions of people in Africa, climate change is a reality, says Greig Whitehead. However, as he explains in this week's Green Room, in religious nations such as Kenya, many believe that tackling global warming is beyond their control.
Kenya is a deeply religious country.
Christians, Muslims and Hindus alike assemble for regular and often lengthy worship; prayers are offered up before and after every public meeting, and even before starting a cross-country "safari", the god of one's faith is called on to bless the journey.
So it comes as no surprise to hear a female pastoralist from the arid lands of North-East Kenya decrying the combined wisdom of the world's scientists, after being told that climate change is man-made.
"How can man change the climate and make it stop raining: it is God's will that has brought the drought," she utters.
But even with trust in the power of God, Kenya is a country on the brink of disaster.
As news reports show, the country's rivers are drying, its more remote areas are turning to desert, and the food chain - from land, to animals, to humans - is breaking down.
The ramifications of the rural drought now stretch to the streets of Nairobi, where five million people face daily power rationing, severe water shortages and higher food prices.
In battle terms, Kenya is on the frontline; it is staring climate change in the face.
Climate for change
But to deal with the global phenomenon, Kenya's "wananchi" (citizens) need to understand the complex of challenges they are up against, including a range of home-grown factors.
A growing population, coupled with insufficient investment in rural infrastructure and land management, makes it even more difficult to adapt to climate change and stave off the impending disasters brought by human induced global warming.
For the future of Kenya, it is vital that practical solutions are found to meet people's concerns and help build sustainable systems that are less vulnerable to increasingly unpredictable weather patterns.
Most importantly, it is up to the youth of Kenya to take up the fight on climate change; to succeed where their elders are failing and to inspire a new generation to change their thinking and adapt their ways.
There are more than 4,000 secondary schools across Kenya, and apart from their purely academic function, most of them play a key role as a focal point for the surrounding community.
Secondary schools are well place to act as catalysts for community action.
The 12% of youth fortunate to attend these schools - the country's future leaders - have the knowledge and abilities to become "change-agents", able to motivate people to develop a better understanding of the causes and impacts of environmental degradation.
This then provides a foundation on which to discuss and take action.
'Here and now'
Climate change is about the here and now in Kenya, already seriously affecting the wellbeing of millions of people.
It is a salutary warning for the more affluent countries in the North that a problem which - in essence - they have created, through industrialisation and development, will in time rebound to affect their own livelihoods.
Climate change is a global issue transcending national boundaries, but impacting first on those who can least afford to cope with the consequences.
The "God not man" cry from the lady in Kenya's northern reaches illustrates a common problem relating to understanding the underlying causes, and underscores the incapability of people in such situations to deal with the crisis that has impacted so severely on their communities.
As Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, notes:
"Climate change will bring massive ecological and economic challenges… therefore, alleviating dehumanising poverty will become even more difficult."
One of the keys to enable understanding and adaptation is to harness the power and ingenuity of youth. As Kefa Kones Kibet, a 17-year-old from Nakuru High School in Kenya's Rift Valley, remarks:
"Climate change causes suffering for people. Many people in Africa walk for miles in search of water.
"Women are the ones who suffer most because they are the ones who look out for the family. People should be educated on how to plant trees and how best to use the little water available.
"The only way to curb climate change is through action now for a better tomorrow."
Greig Whitehead is programme manager for the International Climate Challenge, Kenya
The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website