Coping with drought in Kenya

October 19, 2009 12:00 am

, LOBORO, October 19 – The camel, its legs attached with branches, brays desperately, blood spurting from the cut artery; nomads in Turkana in Kenya’s extreme north have been reduced to sacrificing their animals to survive a bruising drought.

"I brought this dromedary to have it killed and make a little money after the other one died of hunger with the drought," Erkal Lorinyo, 65, later explained as he watched as his animal being chopped up.

Some 20 Turkana nomads have trekked for several hours across the scorched savannah in temperatures of more than 40 degrees C (100 degrees F) to this makeshift slaughtering point.

A dromedary – the single-humped camel native to northern Africa – or a cow brings in Sh10,000 for its owner, a goat is worth Sh800 and the meat is shared out amongst the most needy.

Desperation has prompted the Turkana to overcome their initial reluctance to abandon any of their livestock. More than 16,000 animals, including some 30 dromedaries, will be killed here before the end of the year as part of an aid programme set up by Vets without Borders Belgium and financed by the European Commission to the tune of 2.2 million euros (3.2 million dollars).

The region, near the northern border with Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia, is the poorest in the country, its people – 70 percent of whom are nomads – used to a hostile and desert-like environment.

"The people of Turkana are amongst the most vulnerable people in Kenya and live in one of the areas most affected by drought," said Yves Horent, the head of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department’s Kenya office.

"They also suffer from high malnutrition rates, intermittent conflict with other communities, population pressure and a general lack of development," he said in email comments.

But four failed rainy seasons – one of the extreme meteorological developments that climate specialists attribute to global warming – have left Turkana’s population of half a million people on the verge of exhaustion, fueling tension and leading to survival tactics that only further harm the environment.
Young women sporting the local Mohican hairstyle come carrying goats that died on the way and throw them down next to the dozens of carcasses spread out under an acacia tree without leaves.

"It’s the worst drought since 1969, the year when the dromedaries died," recalled Esta Ekouam, a grandmother who has no idea how old she is. "Most of those who can walk that far have already left for the town. Me, I’m getting by with food aid."

The drought has led notably to a higher incidence of trouble between rival communities who are fighting over what little grazing land still remains, and the few water points.

"The drought has brought an increase in conflicts," said Joseph Elim of the Turkana Riam-Riam association, a local non-governmental organisation.

Both he and locals accuse the government of turning its back on the remote region, which is nearly deserted by national security forces. "The police here are demoralised, under-equipped and itching for their transfer" elsewhere," said Elim.

His NGO tries to act as mediator in fights involving gangs of hundreds of men armed with illegal Kalashnikovs, which leave several hundred people dead every year.

But the lack of security forces makes people reluctant to give up their weapons. "Today you give your gun, tomorrow you are killed and your family slaughtered," said Elim.

The drought also means that hundreds of young men who have had to abandon the only job known to their communities – herding sheep and goats – are now hanging around on the streets of the regional capital Lodwar.

"I’ve been looking after animals since I was born. But after all the animals died this year I had no choice but to come into town. But the only thing I can do here is beg," John Esekon, 30, told AFP.

His story was echoed by most of the young men encountered in the Lodwar market known as California.
Twenty-five-year-old Eibach Lokou gets by selling charcoal. He swears it comes from trees that were already dead.

But it is clear local people are cutting down the few trees left in the region to eke out a meagre living, with the risk of exacerbating the climate change phenomenon that has hit them.


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