Kampi Ya Samaki Underwater Once a thriving hub for fishing and tourism along Lake Baringo in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, the town of Kampi Ya Samaki is now largely underwater. The transformation has been so drastic that seven islands that once dotted the area have now been reduced to six, according to local guide Evans Limo.
The Great Rift Valley’s Growing Pools Over the past decade, the Rift Valley’s lakes have witnessed significant swelling, with Lake Baringo’s area, for instance, doubling since 2010. This drastic change has affected almost 400,000 residents, compelling many to evacuate their homes. Rising waters have also introduced new threats, with communities now at risk from crocodile and hippo attacks.
Blame on Climate Change: A Groundbreaking Lawsuit A novel legal action, initiated by Lake Baringo residents, is focusing on whether climate change has been a significant factor behind these expanding lakes. The lawsuit further probes if Kenya’s constitutional and 2016 climate law frameworks make it imperative for governmental bodies to aid the flood victims. Omondi Owino, the attorney leading the charge, hopes the lawsuit will mandate officials to uphold their climate change responsibilities.
A Complex Puzzle: Natural Phenomenon or Climate Crisis? While the expanding lakes puzzled both residents and experts, some attributed the changes to the Great Rift Valley’s unique geological and hydrological features, noting historical fluctuations in lake sizes. Others pointed to climate change as temperatures in eastern Africa rose by approximately 1°C over the past half-century. However, regional precipitation patterns provided mixed insights, with both an increase in rainfall and frequent droughts, a conundrum termed as the “eastern Africa climate paradox.”
In a quest for answers, the Kenyan government initiated a comprehensive study in 2020. Concluding in 2021, the investigation identified multiple causes for the lake expansion, including altered land usage patterns. However, the predominant factor was climate change, with increased precipitation in elevated regions and reduced evaporation due to extended rainy periods.
Lawsuit’s Foundations and Government’s Rebuttal The 2021 study also recommended government initiatives to address the humanitarian crisis. However, the lawsuit, filed in 2022 by community members, asserts that the authorities failed to provide the necessary assistance. This inaction, as per the lawsuit, breaches Kenya’s constitutional human rights provisions and its pioneering 2016 climate law. The government, in its defense, has contested these allegations, arguing that Kenya isn’t a primary contributor to global warming and that it, too, suffers from the flooding consequences.
Awaiting Judgment With the scheduled court hearing on 24 October, observers are keenly awaiting a verdict which, though unpredictable, will set a precedent for climate change-related litigations in Africa.