May 28, 2022

Women Struggle for Survival in Marsabit Despite Tough Climatic Conditions

A section of Marsabit forest (Photo by Scovian Lilian)

By Scovian Lillian

Emai, thecoastnewspaper@gmail.com

Marsabit County  in Northern Kenya is one of 27 counties classified as arid or semi-arid. Most rivers in the region are seasonal and the heaviest population has to save water. They rely on boreholes for water.

The County frequently experiences drought due to its arid climate and the patterns change often. Marsabit has in the recent years experienced below average rainfall for three consecutive rainy seasons.

As a result, the region is generally dry with extremely high temperatures with no vegetation, which is an impact of climate change. This has pushed locals to find alternative grazing fields for their cattle hence grazing in the Marsabit forest.

Women, on the other hand, eke their living by accessing the forest  to get fuel wood for sale. In an interview, a woman who wanted her identity withheld revealed that women including her cut down trees for fuel wood and construction of houses in the forest.

“We can only get firewood and wood for construction   from this forest since buying is expensive and we cannot afford it, she said adding:

Women selling firewood at Marsabit selling point (Photo by Scovian Lilian)

“We know that cutting the trees causes climate change but we have no otherwise”.

Other three women, residents of Hula Hula Sub-location in Marsabit County said that they heavily rely on firewood for sale and they have been selling it for survival for 30 years now.

“The vegetation is dry because of overgrazing, we do not have water and we walk for long distances to fetch water. The population here is growing daily and we all need water. The government promised to construct a dam here many years ago but todate nothing has materialized, we are left without an alternative other than relying on the forest”, said a Hula Hula resident who said is a mother of five children.

The September 2020 early warning bulletin for Marsabit County by the National Drought Management Authority stated that the vegetation condition index was 36.38. That   exhibited insignificant changes when compared to the previous month’s vegetation condition index of 38.82. The 3- month’s vegetation condition index remained in the normal vegetation condition band. With expected persistence of the forecasted drier than usual conditions, the 3- months vegetation condition index would therefore  reduce and possibly shift to the moderate vegetation deficit in the month of October same year.

Sikana Namana, a resident says, “I started selling firewood ever since I was young and this is because I became an orphan after my parents passed on. Farming does not thrive well here because of scarcity of rains, and that is why I am not stopping fuel wood affair anytime soon”.

 “The government says that they are banning entry into the forest by locals, but how do they expect us to survive if we do not sell fuel wood? Our cows also graze in the forest, I have five children who depend on me, there are no other means of survival”, she added.

Another fuel wood vendor too, Dairo Chudukle says that the forest is her main source of income. She says that a bunch of firewood   is sold for K.shs 500 which is enough to purchase food and other household items for a day.

“We understand conservation matters to curb climate change impacts, things like conserving to increase rainfall and purify the air but we have no choice”, she says.

The 2020 Marsabit County climate risk profile compiled by the Centre for International Tropical Agriculture shows that Marsabit remains highly vulnerable to extreme weather events such as drought and occasional intense rains.

A youngman work along the Marsabit forest (Photo by Scovian Lilian)

This is compounded by the fact that there are no perennial rivers in the county and most households rely on boreholes, springs and wells for both productive and domestic water up to date.

According to Deputy County Commissioner David Saruni, the consequences of fuelwood exploitation have led to climate change impacts like rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns,   and scarce rains combined with human activities such as deforestation.

“They herd livestock in the forest and during this dry season they cut down trees to feed their livestock, causing negative impacts on the eco-system,” he said in an interview.

Charity Munyasya, the Kenya Forest Service Deputy Chief Conservator says that the forest conservation act 2016 gives community users the right to community participation but not cut down trees for fuel wood.

 “Currently access to the Marsabit forest has been restricted due to insecurity reasons and the ban is for all the activities in the forest”, she says.

A recent study conducted in Chad found that among all forest products firewood remains the most used domestic fuel in Africa and also a commodity for sale.

The study published in January this year by Science Direct on ‘environmental challenges’ has revealed that the most observed adverse consequences of the exploitation of firewood for the environment and biodiversity are climate change, reduction of soil fertility, the disappearance of flora and fauna, and desertification.

It also suggests that environmental protection and biodiversity conservation to mitigate the impacts of climate change have become issues of global concern. Forest degradation and deforestation have become very pronounced since the advent of climate change and more needs to be done to combat climate change impacts. 

(This article was supported by SIRI- Social Impact Reporting Initiative.)

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