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Climate change damaging livestock and children’s health, Lancet report says

Changes in climate have greatly affected Kenya’s livestock systems with major drought having affected tens of millions and cost billions of dollars in livestock losses.

The arid and semi-arid lands that occupy 80 to 90 percent of Kenya’s land area have continuously been affected by climate and this was expected to increase in frequency and intensity, with severe consequences for vulnerable population groups such as children.

According to the latest Report from Lancet Countdown on the impact of climate change on children’s health, the impact on children in Kenya could be severe since they were among those most affected by the rise in infectious diseases.

The 2019 Report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change presents the latest data on 41 indicators across five domains namely climate change impacts, exposures and vulnerabilities; adaptation planning and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; economics and finance; and public and political engagement.

In a press release on Tuesday, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) that helped engage with different food systems and food security parts of Lancet Countdown’s work, noted that climate change is already damaging the health of the world’s children and was set to shape the well-being of an entire generation unless the world meets Paris Agreement targets to limit warming to ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius, according to the report.

Nick Watts, Executive Director of The Lancet Countdown says that in Kenya, and throughout Africa, the impacts of climate change on infants were already being felt, and would continue to worsen as temperatures rise.

“Climatic suitability for the transmission of malaria continues to increase in highland areas of sub-Saharan Africa such as Nairobi, which are among the most densely populated agro-climatic zones in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Watts.

And with its high rates of healthcare inequality, poverty, and food insecurity, Watts says that the health effects of climate change were going to be felt strongly across Africa.

For example, the ability of one type of mosquito to transmit dengue fever in Kenya has increased by 20 percent since the 1950s as a result of a changing climate.

Watt says that dengue and malaria would spread into new areas, while a more hostile climate would continue to threaten food security, and without immediate action, climate change would come to define the health of an entire generation.

The  ILRI Director General, Jimmy Smith  said that the Institute was at the forefront of efforts to find solutions for the livestock sector under climate change that incorporate the perspectives and well-being of people in the developing world.

“We are delighted that ILRI was able to help The Lancet Countdown in its vital work of advancing the discussion on climate change,” Smith said.

Rosemary  Sang, a scientist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) who has closely studied climate-driven diseases endemic to Kenya, said that the report shows the importance of including African perspectives in global surveys of climate change impacts.

“Past and current economic activities in the West are likely to affect  Africa’s future for decades to come. We cannot afford to wait on the sidelines for the right decisions to be made. We must lend our voices to those calling for urgent action now,” Sang said.

Crop yield potential in Kenya has been reducing for all major crops tracked since the 1960s with potential for maize reducing by 6.4 percent, 1.5 percent for winter wheat, 1.1 percent for spring wheat and 15 percent for rice.

In Kenya, 86 million potential labour hours were lost due to heat exposure on average in 2015 to 2018 which is a five-fold increase with respect to the average for 2000 and 2003. Of these hours, some 98 percent were lost in the agricultural sector.

Some of the key reports that emerge from the report were that life of every child born today would be profoundly affected by climate change, that it was also still possible to global average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and in order to limit temperature rise, bold new approaches to policy making, research, and business would be needed.

The report says that it would take the work of many of the 7.5 billion people currently alive to ensure that the health of a child born today is not defined by a changing climate.

Around 195 countries have signed the Paris Climate Agreement, which is due to commence in 2020 and aims to reduce the impacts of climate change by preventing the global average temperature from increasing to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with a view to further limit this to less than 1.5°C. However, how these targets will be achieved and funded by all countries has not yet been agreed.

By  Wangari Ndirangu

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