Community Paralegals and access to Climate Justice

Leonida Odongo
Posted December 20, 2016 from Kenya

Human induced climate change through burning of oil, gas and coal. Oil drilling and other related activities led to pollution of land and water. Coupled with this is the ever-present threat of displacement particularly of poor communities to pave way for development projects such as hydroelectric dams.

Fishing is vital to Africa; it supports an annual exports worth US$ 3,000 million. Fish are crucial to the health of 200 million Africa’s providing a source of cheap protein and income to over 10 million people engaged in fish production, processing and trade.

Pollution, the introduction of non-native fish such as Nile perch (commonly known as mbuta on Lake Victoria) and over fishing are having a negative toll on waters in Africa.Many lakes in Africa are home to some of the world’s riches freshwater ecosystems with a rich diversity of species that exist nowhere else on planet earth.

Climate change also attributes to the increasing loss in aquatic biodiversity; such include pollution and sedimentation, forest clearing, introduction of invasive species such as hyacinth on Lake Victoria and burning of fossil fuels. African lakes whose biodiversity is already being felt include Lake Victoria.

Information on climate change is many a times presented in scientific jargon which makes grassroots people unable to understand. The threat of climate change is real and is evidenced by forest fires, expanding deserts, loss of biodiversity and biting hunger.

Additionally, climate change results into a unique group of double vulnerable people known as climate refugees who are absent when many discussions are held about issues of climate change.

Additionally women face the brunt of climate change more than any other gender because of their roles in managing households and care for family members. Droughts and other related unpredictable rainfall subsequently leads to women having to work harder to secure food, water and energy for their households. In most instances the energy supply is through fetching firewood from forests, which have also become no-go zones. This cycle of deprivation, poverty and inequality coupled with arouse labour undermines the social capital of females needed to effectively handle climate change.

Climate change has the effect of intensifying conflicts .In the Middle East for instance; dwindling resources such as water and land are the cores of on-going conflicts. Droughts and desertification significantly affect land that is available for farming. This puts pressure on livelihoods and sources of food. Additionally water stresses brought about by water scarcity are bound to affect --- people in Africa alone by 2020.

To add to the already bleak situation, environmental justice defenders continue to face threats the world over. Faced with trumped up charges, illegal detention and in extreme cases execution, incidences of this are rife in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

It’s against this fragile backdrop that community paralegals can come in to address the environmental injustices faces by communities. As reservoirs of information, community paralegals can create awareness at the community level on issues of climate change and make communities aware of the need to tackle climate change.

Paralegals can carry out advocacy work on climate change thus help organize communities to demand change. Additionally various legislation within states that cover issues of environment of which the bulk of the population is unaware. In Kenya for instance there exists the National Climate Change Action Plan, the Climate Change Act, Water Act as well as institutions mandated to ensure a healthy environment for the populace. This information is lacking especially among grassroots communities who are sadly the most affected by climate change and who are in dire need of information in order to resist when their rights are aggrieved. Additionally, the Kenyan Constitution (2010) provides for a safe, clean and healthy environment, but in reality, this is but a mirage for the majority at the bottom of the economic ladder.

On environmental issues, paralegals can provide alternative dispute resolution to ensure communities live amicably. Various conflicts have erupted between communities on environmental resources. Such include conflicts between pastoralists and farmers, farmers themselves and among pastoralists from different communities.

Paralegals based in the community can play the vital role of monitoring human rights violations and reporting these violations to relevant structure, and if the national structure is the one responsible for the violation then they can raise this issue in international platforms and call attention to the issue affecting marginalized people.

Paralegals based in the community can help the community make referrals on environmental issues .For instance a community facing imminent eviction which may not be aware of where to lodge their complaint can be assisted by paralegals to access justice.

At the community level, paralegals can also help communities in lobbying and advocacy on environmental issues. Through community mobilization, paralegals can work together with communities to access environmental justice who is just but a dream to many frontline communities affected by climate change.

This story was submitted in response to Share On Any Topic.

Comments 5

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Tamarack Verrall
Dec 20, 2016
Dec 20, 2016

Dear Leonida,

Your attention to the condition of our shared environment, and in particular to the immediate problems and lack of good action against further damage being done is all very important. Your call for paralegals to be available as communicators, educators, carriers of news and possible solutions, is a great idea. Environmental justice is owed particularly to those most affected, as you point out so well. Hopefully the voices of those who care about this earth and people will become stronger than the companies whose only interest is to make money. It is good to know that you are there.

In sisterhood,


Dec 29, 2016
Dec 29, 2016

Dear Leonida,

The issue of climate change is so important and will continue to be even more critical for our future as we navigate the next four years of a Trump presidency and the impact this has for our world.  I really appreciate reading concrete examples of how this impacts your country and local community (and woman in particular.) I also love that you come ready with ideas for how paralegals can assist the crisis. I look forward to reading more from you in the year ahead.



Rahmana Karuna
Jan 04, 2017
Jan 04, 2017

Dearest Leonida, 

great articulation of this issue, and pairing it with paralegals is brilliant. we have a lot to do. i have been thank ful to have pro bono legal aid when arrested for forest and water defense in the usa. back before they have changed the laws and are no longer lenient with civil disobedience, which in itself is a crime by the USA legislation. as i said, we have sooo very much work to do to replace the greed and ignorance with care and wisdom.

Beth Klein
Jan 05, 2017
Jan 05, 2017

How can lawyers help paralegals gain critical access and empower their voices?

Leonida Odongo
Jan 09, 2017
Jan 09, 2017

Dear Beth,

Lawyers can help in following up on cases  once community members get arrested, this way they help reduce the workload of community paralegals.They can also  provide  free legal information through public forums. In many instances  the presumption has always been that ignorance of the law is no defence, in the actual situation some  it's not that people ignore the law but they  do  not understand the law itself.The use of legal jargon is also another problem.Lawyers can help paralegals in the simplification of laws  , this will make paralegals work easy so they reach out to more people