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Drought Forces Kenyan Herders to Kill Calves to Save Breeders


The drought in East Africa continues to take its toll on herders and their cattle. Livestock losses are growing and the lack of food and water is affecting women and children especially.

Parts of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are all hard hit by the drought, putting millions of people at risk. Whether rains will come in March and April to help pastures spring back to life is anyone’s guess, but relief agencies are not counting on Mother Nature to help.

What’s happening in Kenya’s North Eastern Province is indicative of what’s happening in the region as a whole. Mohammed Qazilbash is the senior program manager for the aid organization CARE in Kenya. He’s currently in the Garissa District.

“There hasn’t been any substantial rainfall here for the last three to four seasons. The indigenous coping mechanisms of the communities have been significantly strained if not completely dismantled,” he says.

He says the health of the herders in the region was poor even before the drought took hold, particularly for women and children under five. Many of the young children are being helped at therapeutic feeding centers, while more cases of anemia are showing up among lactating and pregnant women.

“As a result, with the drought conditions in place and the lack of food present obviously the numbers are going to be much greater than the pre-drought conditions,” he says.

Besides the lack of rain, the problem is made worse by the overgrazing of pastures. Pastoralists have had to take drastic action to save what’s remaining of their herds.

“This is the calving season of cattle. What has been happening is that in order to save the breeding stock the farmers are killing off the young calves so that the mothers can survive. Unfortunately, there has been substantial loss of cattle. And that has resulted in quite a lot of trauma for many of the communities in the area,” he says.

Recently, in other parts of Kenya, herders have left their traditional areas and traveled to Uganda. But Qazilbash says not so in his area.

“There is a regional catastrophe in the making. And as a result, the natural areas where they would take sanctuary or take their cattle to have also been heavily affected by the drought,” he says.

CARE is one of leading food distributors for the UN World Food Program in Kenya’s North Eastern Province. And it’s helping supply water to about 50,000 people through efforts to restore wells and boreholes.

But the CARE official says a major international effort is needed.

“The principle concern that CARE has is that if there isn’t a coordinated and concerted effort made in all three countries to respond to the needs of the populations, then is what we’ll see is movement of people from one country to another depending on where the food distribution or the relief response is most heavily focused,” he says.

In other words, he says without that coordinated and concerted effort, there could be a refugee problem in addition to the drought.