Joining hands for climate action despite disability

I have witnessed several distinctive changes in climate over the years. The droughts are extremely harsh while the rainy seasons come with flooding and destruction of property. People are finding it hard to cope with the two extremes,” says Huka Jirimo, 62, the Chairperson for Moyale Persons with Disability Group.

Huka was one of 51 participants who attended the climate change adaptation policy workshop held at St Paul Conference Centre in Moyale on 2nd of December 2019. The workshop was organized by PACIDA together with Marsabit County Department for Water, Environment and Natural Resources Development. This is part of a wider dissemination and public participation campaign to enhance public knowledge and participation on county climate change adaptation activities.

Huka has problems with walking and relies on crutches to support his body. He suffered from complex arthritis eight years ago and lost all abilities to use his legs. The persons with disabilities is a self-help and advocacy group in Heilu Ward of Moyale Sub County. The group supports a membership of 26 people with various types of disabilities such as blindness, hearing incapacity, mental instability and other forms of physical instability.

“I plan to share the knowledge that I gained from the workshop with members of persons with disabilities group as well as other people within my social networks,” he says. The members contribute 50 Kenya Shillings every month, an equivalent of 0.005 US Dollars, deposited into a bank account as monthly savings. They also reach out to different stakeholders including the county administration, NGOs and individual well-wishers who are in a position to support their cause.

‘When I was a young boy, in the 1950s, the climate of Moyale was friendlier than today. Extreme droughts were unheard of, we had regular cycles of rainfall. Animals had enough pasture to browse throughout the year. Food was plenty. However, around the 70s and 80s things started to change dramatically,” he says. In 1984, Ethiopia experienced one of its worst famine in history that wiped out hundreds of thousands of people. Pictures by journalists capturing the crisis rattled the world with the highlight being photos of a vulture waiting to devour the remains of a dying child. Huka explains that as a result of cycles of drought, water remains scarce and expensive when bought from street vendors. “They charge 100 Kenya Shillings, an equivalent of one US dollar, for four 20-litre jerricans,” he says.

Livestock diseases have become a constant burden to the pastoralists. Most rampant diseases include Brucellosis, Pneumonia and Mastitis. ‘There are some diseases that we do not understand due to their strange symptoms and we do not even have local names for them,’ he says. He also cites insecurity as an indirect effect of climate change. When people fight over scarce resources such as pasture and water, the conflicts often appear as tribal yet there are root causes linked to adverse changes in climate and adaptation.

Huka is a past victim of conflict and displacement and narrates how he escaped through the back fence of his compound and headed for the river into Ethiopia when bandits struck in Heilu. People’s homes were torched to the ground and farms destroyed.

“Public education is a powerful tool that informs and helps people to change their attitudes and behavior towards the right direction. Despite my physical vulnerabilities, I intend to share the knowledge gained from the workshop to influence my community positively towards climate change action,” he says. Through engagement in public forum, radio talk shows and briefings with the county agencies, Huka hopes to pass across his message about climate action. He sees a clear link between climate change and increase in inter-communal conflict and hopes to do something to create a safer environment for his children and grandchildren.

‘We are all one people, whether one is from Borana, Burji or Gabbra, we are children of the same father. We should stop hostilities and violence towards each other. That would be my message to my people of Marsabit County,’ he says.

His group of persons with disabilities is well familiar with sub county climate action and general planning and members are called regularly for briefings on county position on support to persons with disabilities. Currently 94 students who are children of persons with disabilities from Huka’s and other grups are beneficiaries of Marsabit County bursary and scholarship program targeting vulnerable groups.

 

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