Nasike Lopuricho, 70, slowly walks across the acacia dotted arid hills of Lokichar, Turkana County, tending to her goats. Once in a while, she stops to collect dry branches from the acacia for firewood, which she uses to cook at home. She also sells some of it at a local market for a little money.
Near the homestead where she lives with her family, less than 10km away, huge drilling machines are boring her community land for pricey crude oil which large trucks later haul to the Port of Mombasa for shipping to China.
In 2012, British oil explorer Tullow Oil discovered oil deposits estimated at 560 million barrels in Turkana. An early oil pilot scheme in the Lokichar Basin, one of the oil mining fields, began more than two months ago, producing between 400 and 600 barrels of oil daily.
The exploration of the fossil fuel nonetheless comes at the eleventh hour when the rest of the world is switching from fossil fuel to clean energy. And anti-fossil fuel and climate change crusaders agitating for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions have bitterly criticised the exploration as unnecessary, arguing that the world can no longer risk excavating new oil mines in an already warming planet.
Citing studies such as that published by Oil Change International in 2016 which found that carbon emissions from oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operating ﬁelds and mines would take the world beyond 2°C of warming sooner than later, the experts warn that digging new petroleum wells will push the world past the tipping point.
On the opposite side are those that allay such fears, stressing that oil discovery in Turkana will spur development in the marginalised region. Unfortunately, more than seven years after the exploration began, Turkana still struggles with the same problems: limited or no access to healthcare, poor roads and periodical deaths from hunger and starvation.
I have been left with less than 15 mature goats
Life, the residents here will tell you, has not improved one bit for them. The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics household survey released in 2018 ranked Turkana the poorest in the country, with 79 in every 100 people in the county unable to afford a meal.
Travelling from Lodwar Town, the county’s capital, to Lokichar Town, some 85km away, is an uphill task, thanks to the poor state of the road, if the massive potholes can be called that. It took the DN2 team more than six hours on the rough road while driving across the two towns, a journey that should ordinarily take about an hour, after heavy flash floods blocked various sections of the road for several hours.
In May this year, residents like Lopuricho were lucky to survive a severe drought that claimed the lives of more than 10 people and hundreds of livestocks. Had well-wishers not donated food, Lopuricho might just not have survived.
Over the years, the 70-year-old Luporicho has witnessed several drought seasons come and go. But the impact and the intensity of the droughts, she observes, have been growing dire with every passing season.
She is right. In less than half a century for instance, the county has registered a spike in minimum and maximum air temperatures of between 2 and 3°Celcius between 1967 and 2012, which is twice higher than the global mean temperature, which is said to have increased by 0.8°Celsius in the last 50 -100 years, according to government data obtained by Human Rights Watch.
At the same time, rainfall patterns have become erratic and drought more frequent.
The worsening climatic conditions also mean that Lopuricho and her fellow nomads risk losing their livelihood to recurring drought and heatwaves, factors that are steadily scattering pastoralism.
“I have been left with less than 15 mature goats after over 80 of them died during the last drought. Again, there are no wild fruits which we used to eat and sell, so I burn charcoal and collect firewood which I sell for income,” explained Lopuricho, a mother of six.
Being nomads, the indigenous people of Turkana move with their livestock from one location to another in search of water and pasture. But experts warn that unless the locals are empowered to cope with the climatic burden, climate change could drive local communities to clashes over scarce pasture and water, among other crises.
In 2016, over 400 families from drought-stricken Samburu and Turkana communities reportedly fled their homes after the two communities clashed over grazing fields. Cattle rustling is also common here, and often tragic.
Asked whether Tullow Oil has helped them to access water or involved them in mitigating the impact of climate change, the locals in Lokichar say the company has done very little. Attempts by Nation to get response from Tullow Oil in regard to this were futile after the company failed to respond to emails.
Joseph Ekiru, the coordinator of Achukule Agroforestry Farmers, a help group located in Turkana County, says that while the oil company has built a health facility and a school nearby, the larger community has not been empowered towards climate change mitigation such as mass tree planting, climate-smart farming and livestock keeping, which projects like Turkana’s oil exploration will make more necessary.
Those in the rural parts of Turkana depend on some evergreen wild trees which coincidentally fruit during drought seasons. The trees, whose leaves are also livestock fodder, bear fruits which the locals gather for food and sell for little income. Recently however, most of these trees have either been cut down for charcoal or dried up due to severe drought, while the remaining few no longer fruit, the locals say.