The Increasing Dangers of Living and Fishing Near Kenya’s Lake Baringo

Kenya’s Lake Baringo, once a serene and picturesque freshwater lake, has become a treacherous environment for residents and fishermen due to the rising dangers posed by hippos and crocodiles. Over the last decade, the lake has doubled in size due to heavy rainfall attributed to climate change, resulting in the displacement of communities and the destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, and infrastructure. The expanding water levels have also led to a surge in the population of deadly predators such as Nile crocodiles and hippos, leading to an alarming increase in attacks on humans.

Joseph Atuma, a fisherman who had previously spent years fishing in Lake Baringo without incident, fell victim to a brutal hippo attack in 2018. The hippo ambushed him in his canoe near the shoreline, tearing off a significant part of his leg. Despite this traumatic experience, Atuma has recently resumed fishing in the lake, as it remains his only means of livelihood to support his family. However, he now lives in constant fear of encountering crocodiles and hippos, as the rising water levels have brought these dangerous animals closer to human settlements.

Winnie Keben, another survivor, narrowly escaped a crocodile attack but lost her leg in the process. She now wears a prosthetic limb and resides several kilometers away from the lake, fearful of further attacks. Keben’s story is just one among many, as numerous individuals, particularly children, have fallen victim to the aggressive predators lurking in the lake’s waters. The urgency of the situation has prompted 66 residents to file a lawsuit against the Kenyan government, accusing it of negligence in responding to the climate crisis and its devastating impact on Lake Baringo and its surrounding communities.

As the legal battle unfolds, the government finds itself under mounting pressure to address the climate crisis and take appropriate action to protect its citizens. Africa, despite contributing a mere 2-3% of global carbon emissions, has been disproportionately affected by the consequences of climate change. Acknowledging this fact, the African Union (AU) and the Kenyan government co-hosted the inaugural Africa climate summit in the capital city of Nairobi. President William Ruto emphasized the need for substantial investment in green projects to mitigate the effects of climate change and open up economic opportunities.

During the summit, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) pledged $4.5 billion in clean energy investments for Africa, and the UK government committed $61 million to various projects aimed at helping communities adapt to climate change. However, the residents affected by Lake Baringo’s expansion are seeking financial compensation for the losses they have incurred, including ancestral land, farms, and livestock. They also stress the adverse health consequences resulting from increased exposure to waterborne diseases like malaria and cholera.

The court case holds the potential to set a precedent in addressing the intersection of climate change and human rights. If successful, it could establish the accountability of governments in implementing climate change policies and ensuring the right to a clean and healthy environment for their citizens.

As the legal proceedings continue, the harrowing experiences faced by individuals like Joseph Atuma and Winnie Keben highlight the urgent need for greater attention and action to protect vulnerable communities and safeguard their livelihoods. The rising water levels and the increased presence of deadly predators near Lake Baringo have further compounded the challenges faced by residents and fishermen. Kenya’s government must respond effectively to the climate crisis and seek sustainable solutions to secure the lives and livelihoods of its citizens in the face of ongoing environmental changes.