Climate Crises on Health and Livelihoods: The Unheard Tales of Garfasa Community in Isiolo

by Amref Health Africa

The impacts of climate change are felt everywhere across the globe – characterised by extreme temperatures, heat waves, floods and droughts, among others. These factors have a bearing effect on malnutrition among children under the age of five and expectant women. The causes of climate change are varied and include – deforestation, industrial emissions, unplanned rearing of livestock, fluorinated gases and discharge of chemicals into the atmosphere i.e. the use of nitrogen fertilizer for farming that is eventually swept into water bodies.

Just like other parts of the world, the residents of Garfasa ward, Garbatula Sub-county in Isiolo County continue to face these harsh realities. They wake up, every day, to a dusty atmosphere with scorching sunshine that threatens to dry every living matter. Their resilience to withstand drought, lack of food, and extreme temperatures is pushed to the wall with little hope for a better tomorrow.

The inhabitants of Isiolo county are pastoralists and agro-pastoralists. Their livelihoods are easily curtailed by extreme drought and unpredictable rainfall, leading to reduced crop yields, low livestock productivity, high livestock mortality, low income and food and nutrition insecurity.

Imagine, how is life without water? Lack of access to water possess a significant threat to people’s way of living, especially women and children. It is unimaginable to think of how a woman can survive without water; her intricate life cycle demands that she has water close to her reach for both personal and domestic use. Talk of when they are experiencing their menstruation, without water, they cannot clean themselves, thus forcing them into isolation because of low self-esteem. Besides, they sacrifice and walk several kilometres in search of the precious commodity thereby robbing them of the time to go to school and engage in other productive activities.  

Access to health is a basic human right and to enhance quality health service delivery in Africa, we need to have enough well-trained and well-motivated health workforce and a resilient health system that withstands shocks caused by health emergencies. The residents of Garfasa ward, dream to have such conditions in their health facilities. To them, access to quality health care is still a pipe dream, and they hope that soon enough, they will wake up to a substantive reality. Access to quality health care is impeded by lack of health care commodities such as drugs, nutrition supplies, personnel and long distances that one needs to walk to access the health facility.

Adolescent boys and girls are denied their basic human right to education. The competing priorities and the harsh realities caused by climate change have reduced their survival options to near zero. Isiolo County is a pastoralist community, more attention is given to animals than human beings, and parents see it fit for the boys to look after their herds than attend schools. In most cases, they accompany their parents on pasture searching expeditions. Girls are not spared, their work is reduced to searching for water which sometimes calls them to walk long distances, over 10 kilometres. They risk being attacked by wild animals such as hyenas, elephants, snakes and lions on their journey to unimaginable water sources. The girls are also at risk of becoming teen mothers, being married off in exchange for cattle, goats and camels. The unimaginable reality here is that adolescent youths have no access to sexual and reproductive health services making their lives more vulnerable to STIs.

Amref, working jointly with its partner, has proposed various actions to address the dire situation of the communities and the entire region through a multi-sector One-Health approach which encompasses human health, animal health and environmental interventions, together with the facilitation of a common platform for coordinating at the institutional level and sharing good practice. Recognising that peace does not spring from improved livelihoods as in most cases, improved natural resources can heighten conflict, if not well managed, the intervention features specialised components for working on conflict resolution, peace and stability within the region – occasionally caused by cattle rustling and competition for the limited resources such as water and pasture.

Through localised weather monitoring and One-Health Approach, Amref intends to contribute to increased resilience to droughts and other negative impacts of climate change to the vulnerable groups and reduce the number of under-five children who are stunted in Isiolo (WHA – Global Nutrition Target 1 for 2025), enhance food and nutrition security for the vulnerable pastoralist and agro-pastoralist communities in the region, generating sustainable livelihoods, protecting productive assets and improving climate smart county service delivery.

Working with the county governments, Amref supports the establishment of the County One Health Unit (COHU) at the county level. County COHU is strategic in enhancing the collaboration of animal health and human health sectors for the control of endemic zoonoses and to respond to outbreaks. The staffing comprises officers in charge of surveillance or disease control in the respective departments of health and livestock and coordinating One Health (OH) efforts in the counties. County One Health Unit coordinates regular stakeholder meetings to share information; links with the national OHU to develop policies and strategies for prevention and control strategies. During outbreaks, county OHUs liaise with national OHU to facilitate investigation and response. The county OHU also identifies and builds the capacity of sub-county OH focal persons who are a crucial linkage between SCMOHs and SCVOs in the implementation of zoonotic disease activities.

Amref has also supported the county metrological department to set up weather stations at the community level to promote the collection and use of geospatial weather information while integrating traditional practices and knowledge into an adaptive decision-making process. Assigned individuals use a web platform coded to capture GPS location to observe, measure, collect, and share data on weather and its impacts on human, animal and environmental health. The integration of information with secondary geospatial weather data allows their visualisation on the map, supporting communities and authorities in decision-making processes that are related to specific actions.

Author: Noah Wekesa W. CA, Digital Media, Amref Health Africa (Global and Kenya)

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