Why Developing Countries are Disproportionately Affected by Climate Change -- and What Can They Do About it

If there is something today that nobody, regardless of socio-economic status, ethnicity or race, can run away from, it is the issue of climate change. In particular, the world's poorest people are most vulnerable to the devastating effects climate change.
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If there is something today that nobody, regardless of socio-economic status, ethnicity or race, can run away from, it is the issue of climate change. In particular, the world's poorest people are most vulnerable to the devastating effects climate change.

Unlike people of wealthier developed countries, the people of the developing world do not have the means to fight global climate change. They will be the first and worst to be hit. A temperature rise of 2 to 4 degrees will cause a decreased yield in agriculture and increase rural-to-urban migration that will eventually lead to political unrest in already unstable governments.

This is currently happening in places like my home country of Kenya. Over the last few years, the weather patterns have been changing and becoming more unpredictable. According to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), it is not just droughts that are causing continuous food insecurity in Africa but rather, it is the minor climate shifts that have profound effects on farmers. The changing, unpredictable and erratic rainfall seasons have affected farmers' ability to plan their farming. Areas that used to receive adequate rainfall now receive insufficient rainfall, reducing the area of land that can support agriculture.

This is bad news for Kenya's economy. As a developing country, agriculture is the backbone of our economic growth. Over 70 percent of Kenyan GDP is from agriculture and agriculture-related industries. The effects of these changes in weather patterns on the agricultural sector are becoming more devastating each year.

With maize farmers no longer able to produce the yield they expected, villagers and farms are beginning to lose manpower. Strong and able young people in the prime of their lives who are oozing with the energy needed to drive this sector are packing up their bags and heading for the cities -- mainly Nairobi. In these cities, they expect employment, improved living standards and better health care. However, most of them are disappointed when they can't find work. In the cities, the unemployment rates are staggering; according to the 2009 government population census, 60 percent of Kenyan youth are unemployed. The cost of living is also high. These young people are either idle in the city centers or are taking part in organized crime, which Nairobi is notorious for. Both scenarios are disastrous to the economy, especially in a developing country.

In the rural farming villages, the picture is grim as the short-term impacts of climate change are being felt, with women and children bearing the brunt of climate change. The absence of young laborers in these villages leaves women and children with no option but to take up tools and head for the farms. In communities that are already gender imbalanced, women wake up as early as 4 am to go to the farms until midday, or in some cases the evenings. Children have to balance between schoolwork and farm work as part of their daily routine. Indeed, the short-term impacts of climate change fall harshly on women and children. As the years pass, the effects of climate change become more profound for women and children, who are at the heart of this crisis. They will continue to live in a cycle of increasing poverty, fewer choices and little opportunity to improve their capacities.

What can emerging economies do to mitigate the effects of climate change? The reality is that they are limited in their options. The governments of these economies have a full agenda that includes providing basic necessities for their citizens and improving on the priority areas of economic development, such as women's empowerment and security, poverty alleviation and education, improving health care and sanitation. With these priorities alone, these governments are already struggling with improving the lives of their citizens and keeping up with these needs, and mitigating the effects of climate change is not on the docket.

However, there are simple things with far-reaching benefits that they can do. For instance, setting up of irrigation schemes. Unreliable rainfall brings the need for more exploitation of irrigation farming, especially in arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs). Through intensifying irrigation, we can increase agricultural productivity fourfold and massively increase income, providing the necessary revenue to make this a thriving sector while also mitigating climate change.

The governments should also increase the mandates of public research institutes to include accessing and possibly mitigating the effects of climate change. By doing this, they will create a system that will encourage and support local solutions to the problem of climate change and also offset the effects in the sectors that are the worst affected. For instance, in Kenya we have the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, which, if its mandate is increased, can considerably mitigate climate change.

Public private partnerships are another key to the success of the government efforts. Organizations like the One Acre Fund have already proven that farmers, if given the necessary support and technology, can turn climate change into a blessing. More of these private organizations need to come up and build strong partnerships with government institutions to build an eco-system that will foster economic growth while mitigating climate change.

Most importantly, the answer to mitigating the effects of climate change rests in the hands of those who are worst affected -- youth and women. They can take this as an opportunity and become a strong force that will spur economic growth and save the world. Can they do that? They can, through entrepreneurship. If only 1,000 people in this demographic started their own businesses with as little as $100, in ten years, these people will provide over 100,000 employment opportunities, bring millions into the economy and most importantly, do good. GreenChar, a clean energy startup that I founded in Kenya, is already proving this model -- that you can mitigate climate change while creating employment and driving economic growth.

Now is the perfect opportunity to create an eco-system that will empower the world's poorest, supporting and encouraging them to fight climate change while also educating their children, empowering their women, reducing unemployment and building a thriving economy. Through this eco-system, we will fill the gaps that the governments can't address.