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Project Aims to Reduce Fighting in Horn of Africa

  • Mike Sunderland

The lack of water and other natural resources in the drought-prone Horn of Africa region are often major causes of conflict. But a new project in northern Kenya and Ethiopia is designed to bring communities together by improving access to water and encouraging people to work together to protect it.

Pastoralists in northern Kenya take advantage of a spell of good weather.

Herders at this water point in the village of Torbi come to feed their animals and collect drinking water for themselves and their families.

But, such scenes are not always common.

With the coming of the dry season, water shortages add to the heat and dust of the savannah. Daily life can grind to a halt, and a very real fight for survival begins.

In Torbi, the fight led to tragedy five years ago when more than 60 people, including 22 children, died during a raid by a neighboring tribe.

Herders say tensions had increased so much during that people were prepared to kill for water.

"There was rain on this side of the mountain and drought on our side. Because of the fighting between the two communities, we couldn't bring our animals here to graze," Cattle herder, Dokata Elema says, "There were gunmen on both sides. Our animals were dying."

But as a result of a peace deal and a project funded by the European Commission, the two tribes, the Borana and the Gabra, now work together to prepare for future droughts.

The aim is to improve access to water and pasture in order to decrease the fighting.

Across the border in southern Ethiopia, both conflict and drought remain constant concerns.

In the small village of Dukale, herders carry guns to the waterside.

They say the weapons are for protection from the Oromo Liberation Front, a group seeking independence from Ethiopia. Villagers say many of their men have been killed or abducted, and the lack of peace means little chance for development.

Poor development is a familiar story throughout the Horn of Africa. European Commission spokesman Martin Karami says the commission is providing real help, but more needs to be done by governments to build on the progress.

"What the Disaster Risk Reduction Program is doing is to implement programs that should be used as examples by governments in the region and development agencies. This is what this program is trying to attain, to have governments take these projects up and implement them at a bigger scale," Karami said.

Without that help, the camel herders of Torbi may be forced to abandon their traditional migrating lifestyles and settle where water is more readily available.

For them, the threat of conflict has now passed. But the real enemy is the drought and it could return soon.

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