El Niño in Kenya: How can humanitarian aid cope with climate change? 

Girl and her mother, Kenya

Persistent rainfall is hampering humanitarian aid in Kenya after a precarious period of drought. As the effects of climate change hit the country with a vengeance, the financial resources that are urgently needed for innovative resilience in Kenya’s refugee camps are dwindling – by up to 50%. Terre des hommes Lausanne, the leading Swiss children's rights organisation, has come up with alternative ways to continue its vital support. 

Blocked roads and fuel shortages: The El Niño weather phenomenon is worsening access to humanitarian aid in Kenya. Terre des hommes Lausanne (Tdh) has been working for 12 years to protect children in the refugee camps in northern Kenya, where hundreds of children are separated from their families. In order to continue its assistance, the organisation has found short-term alternative solutions: the teams provide psychological support to the children by telephone when the weather conditions prevent staff from visiting them.

"We are looking for innovative ways to expand our services and become more resilient - for example with remote psychological counselling. This allows us to adapt our response to the circumstances," says Craig Tucker, head of the Tdh delegation in Kenya.

There is a great need for psychosocial support in the refugee camps. Children are increasingly suffering from anxiety and irritability, and they tell our staff that they feel sad and restless more often. In group activities, Tdh helps the children to process their experiences and build a sense of security and self-confidence. This can help them to better understand their feelings and react positively to them.

Climate resilience despite reduced funding?

Kenya's current environmental situation is bitterly ironic. A long period of drought is followed by heavy rains, which do not solve the problem, but rather exacerbate it. Floods wash away shelters, food and possessions. Many refugee families in the camps have lost everything. Lack of access to clean water, the spread of disease and high inflation make the situation even worse.

“The loss of our shelter is a big challenge for us. Without it, we are directly exposed to the elements and living in very unhygienic conditions,” says a resident of the Hagadera refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya.

Forecasters say El Niño could last until March - meaning continuous rainfall until the next rainy season. This will require a high degree of adaptability on the part of both the camp residents and the humanitarian response. Against the background of a drastic reduction in funding for actors in the refugee camp, from 10 to as much as 50%, resilience is a major challenge.

Tdh is helping families and vulnerable children by providing financial support and distributing sleeping mats. A key challenge for humanitarian aid is the supply of energy: During heavy rains, no fuel can be delivered if the roads are blocked by the floods, which in turn prevents us from reaching the camps. Innovative solutions like renewable energy are urgently needed  to enable organisations like Tdh to work independently.

"The effects of climate change and the price that people are paying for it are clearly visible here. We are trying to adapt even though funding is dwindling at an alarming rate. At the moment, it's a minimal service trying to meet a huge need," explains Craig Tucker.

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