How to Help, and NOT Help, Kenyans

By JD King Published on March 20, 2015

On March 6, the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice (OSJ) launched a series of videos portraying poor Kenyan farmers as helpless victims of global warming. Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA), a movement of under-age-30 Christians started by the Evangelical Environmental Network to respond to what it perceives as the crisis of manmade global warming, promoted the launch in a press release that day.

“This visual is what we’re looking for, and we’re excited to use it immediately,” says YECA national organizer Ben Lowe.

Climate Conversation: Kenya is exactly the kind of resource we evangelicals need. It [shows] how climate change is impacting our brothers and sisters in places like Kenya,” Lowe says. “It creates space for much-needed conversations around what’s happening around the world and how we can respond more faithfully as part of the body of Christ.”

Are water shortages hurting some rural Kenyan farmers? Yes. Is it because of global warming-induced changes in weather patterns? No.

In the short YouTube clips, set to slow, emotional music, speakers claim that poor Kenyans are suffering from reduced rainfall and unpredictable weather primarily because of man-made climate change, caused by rich people in the developed world.

“This issue of climate change can no longer be ignored,” pleads Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, OSJ Creation Care Coordinator, U.S.A. “I know it’s divisive, I know that it’s polarized, but that’s not a good enough excuse. I can’t look at the people that I talked to in this last ten days and tell them, ‘Yes, but, this issue is polarized, this issue hurts people’s feelings when you talk about it at home.’ That’s just not good enough for me anymore.”

“It’s unfortunate, but farmers all over Africa are talking about changing weather patterns,” said Dr. Dennis Garrity, the Director General of World Agroforestry Center, U.S.A. “There has been enormous changes in the onset of the rainy season, the length of the rains, the duration and the intensity of drought during the rainy season. And it all fits the scientific evidence that Africa is in fact the area of the world that is going to suffer the most from climate change.”

They complain specifically that the onset of seasonal rains, important for when to plant crops, is shifting from January to February.

The problem is, the actual recorded rainfall data in Kenya indicate that the clouds are raining awfully close to the amount they’ve always rained.

But some of the locals in the video remembered when it rained earlier and it rained more! So what’ll it be? You choose. Measured rainfall, or childhood memories? Below are the numbers.

Kenya water data 1
While we’re at it, average temperatures in Kenya have pretty much remained the same, too.

Kenya water data 2
Care of Creation Director for Kenya Craig Sorley, recognizes deforestation as another contributor to the water problem. Because of it, he says, “a lot of the water that comes to our landscape flows very quickly off of that landscape and goes down into the ocean, and leaves behind a rather dry landscape. I think that’s a combination of not only broader climate change across the globe but also as a result of the damage we have done to ourselves, to our landscapes.”

Kenya may actually be experiencing more floods and droughts than in previous years, though not because of changes in temperature or rain patterns.

Why?  First, as population grows, demand for water increases, not just for drinking but also for agriculture, industry and other uses, resulting in more frequent and severe droughts — even with no change in rainfall, as climatologist Dr. David Legates has explained. Moreover, Kenya has increased it’s agricultural land from about 252,000 to about 275,000 square kilometers from 1961–2011. Thus, demand for irrigation water grows, leading to more droughts — even without a decrease in annual rainfall.

Then, too, there is the matter of ongoing urban development and deforestation in Kenya. As land there is developed and deforested, it absorbs less rain, thus sending more runoff into streams, which then flood more frequently and severely.

What can be done? Kenya actually could be a very wet nation. It borders the ninth-largest freshwater lake in the world by volume — Lake Victoria. One solution to the water crisis could be, following the ancient Romans and the California State Water Project, to build aqueducts.

Some Roman aqueducts carried water 260 miles, and the California State Water Project provides drinking water for an equivalent of half the population of Kenya by transporting water through a large number of aqueducts, the shortest of which is over 240 miles long. Shorter aqueducts could provide enough water for all of Kenya’s drier areas. But Kenya lacks the thing to do this: wealth and economic growth.

Unfortunately, it the climate change activists have their way, Kenya’s economic growth will be curtailed. Why? Because the proposed policies would restrict the use of abundant, reliable, affordable energy — an essential condition of economic growth.

Good intentions are not enough. What Kenyans need is cheap energy. Unfortunately, if the ideas in these videos were followed, those ideas would prolong the thing that hurts Kenyans the most — poverty.


JD King is a contributing writer for The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. He is also a filmmaker and has two documentaries on environmental subjects, Crying Wolf, and BLUE.

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