‘Climate emergency is already here in Kenya and country is facing famine,’ warns UN’s Irish coordinator in Africa

Kenya is on the brink of a famine caused by Ireland and other nations’ “climate irresponsibility”, the United Nations’ resident coordinator in Africa has said.

rishman Dr Stephen Jackson has held the senior UN role in Kenya for the past 18 months. Due to climate change, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are experiencing a severe drought.

“There should be two rainy seasons a year here in Kenya, but we have had no rain in two years,” Dr Jackson said. “That has never happened since records began. It is because of the climate emergency. In Ireland, people think of the climate emergency as something yet to come, but in Kenya it is already here.”

He said Africa has contributed little to the climate emergency, yet it is paying the price while the rest of the world looks on.

“Kenya and other African countries are picking up the bill for other countries’ — including Ireland’s — climate irresponsibility. It’s morally reprehensible. It’s like the rest of the world went to the bar and drank for 150 years and left Africa to pick up the bill. I am angry and passionate about the climate emergency, because in Kenya and other parts of Africa this is not a self-inflicted wound.”

Dr Jackson, who has been involved in humanitarian work for more than 30 years, said Kenya, “now a proud democracy”, is on the verge of famine.

An Irish diplomatic mission led by Junior Overseas Development Minister Colm Brophy recently traveled with a Department of Foreign Affairs convoy to northern Kenya to witness the impact of drought. The team visited the region of Turkana, a rural area heavily reliant on agriculture and farming.

Dr Jackson said: “We saw no cows that were alive, but plenty of animal carcases. People just told us, ‘Our animals are gone’. There are 1.5 million livestock that have died because of this drought. By the end of this year, it is estimated that 4.5 million people will be in a severe state of food insecurity directly linked to this situation.”

The UN, in conjunction with the Kenyan government, is financially assisting half-a-million people impacted by the drought. Kenya is a democratic nation and its government, unlike that of many other countries in Africa, is trying to provide a range of financial supports to rescue northern territories from the brink of famine.

“Kenya is a stable and functioning democracy,” Dr Jackson said. “They are a very proud and energetic nation. There are two Kenyas, really. On the one hand, it is the Silicon Savannah, it is the technological hub of Africa. The other Kenya is the part that is experiencing the severe drought, in the northern region, but because of their technology, we are able to provide financial support fast.”

Dr Jackson said more than half-a-million families in Kenya affected by the drought receive €60 a month via a money messaging app to help keep their families fed in a joint initiative by the Kenyan government and the UN.

“Kenya has a digital mobile phone currency called M-Pesa. It’s like Revolut on steroids,” Dr Jackson said. “Over half-a-million families receive the payment, usually paid to the mother. Despite living in rural areas, those experiencing the drought all have mobile phones. The quickest and best way to help them to afford food is to have this money transfer. It also helps stimulate the local economy.”

Dr Jackson said Ireland has been one of the most generous in terms of providing aid, but we can always do more.

“What people need to remember is that this crisis is caused by the rest of the world. So please, if you can, donate to the Irish NGOs currently making appeals,” he said. “Write to your local TD or minister and ask them to increase the level of contribution from the State.

“But maybe most importantly, raise your voice about the global impact of climate change. That could be even more effective than any amount of money.”

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