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Climate-linked lake rise frustrates indigenous Endorois health volunteers

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A woman standing by a submerged building

By Billy Rwothungeyo, Africa Media Officer at Minority Rights Group

The gradual rise of the lakes in Kenya’s Rift Valley, a phenomenon that has been unfolding for the better part of a decade, has received significant media attention both locally and internationally.

Seven lakes – Turkana, Baringo, Bogoria, Nakuru, Elementaita, Logipi and Magadi – have swelled in size in recent years. Several factors, including the ongoing climate crisis, have been pinpointed as reasons for the rising water levels. The media has aptly captured the flooding of villages, the submerging of farmlands and even the impacts on wildlife.

What has received little media attention though is the impact of the rise of these lakes on the daily lives of indigenous peoples that live near them, such as the Endorois of Baringo County. The Endorois are a marginalized indigenous community who reside in the areas around the salty alkaline Lake Bogoria.

With the funding support of the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Kenya, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is implementing a programme called ‘Ethnic Minority Defenders: Amplifying the voices of minority indigenous human rights defenders to advocate for the rights to health and education’ in Kenya.

MRG is working with the indigenous Endorois, Ogiek, Sengwer and Awer to attain better health outcomes in their communities.

Under this project, we have conducted training of Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) who work closely with health facilities to ensure that community members access quality healthcare. Their work includes encouraging patients of diseases such as tuberculosis to complete their doses or accompanying expectant mothers to health facilities. Josephine Konga and Edward Kiploman are two such CHVs from the Endorois community that have been trained.

In Loboi, Marigat sub-county, residents were served by only one dispensary, which is an outpatient health centre. Over recent years, as Lake Bogoria has expanded, the dispensary became partly submerged under lake waters, frustrating the efforts of Josephine and Edward. ‘Since the dispensary is now under water, we can no longer access it. So, our people have to walk several kilometres elsewhere to access even basic medicines,’ says Josephine.

Authorities have promised to build another health facility on dry land, although this is yet to come to fruition.

‘Since the water submerged several villages, people moved to temporary settlements and many have not built new latrines. So, there is open defecation which puts us at increased risks of waterborne diseases,’ says Edward. The rise of Lake Bogoria also submerged clean water springs and pit latrines, exposing locals to water-borne diseases such as cholera.

Adversity is never too far away from the Endorois. They have been faced with forceful evictions from their ancestral lands to create way for conservation projects. They have also been denied access to sacred religious sites. Climate change is just the latest challenge testing their resilience.

Photo: Josephine Konga, an indigenous Endorois community health volunteer standing near the submerged Loboi Dispensary in Baringo County, Kenya. Credits: Billy Rwothungeyo/MRG.

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