The onset of a water crisis in Kenya at the time of political instability and ethnic unrest has threatened pastoralists in the far northern and southeastern reaches of the country. The anti-poverty agency Action Aid Kenya has sounded an alert about the shortages and their potential consequences, not only for the survival of grazing herds, but also for the livelihood of the herdsmen. Action Aid international communications coordinator for Africa Eric Mgendi says the drought warning signs are cropping up far beyond Kenya’s borders.
“The livestock have not begun dying yet like in western Somalia, but that’s why we are flagging it up before it happens because the famine is just in a matter of weeks,” he says.
The Action Aid coordinator cites Kenya’s Ijara and Takaba districts as the most vulnerable places where herdsmen are roaming desperately with their livestock in search of water. In Takaba in particular, “people right now are receiving water relief, which is delivered in trucks.” In other places like Sericho, shallow wells had to be dug into dry riverbeds to quench thirst, and at Tana River, occasional conflicts have flared up between farming and livestock practitioners over land use.
“These are places which usually experience famine and drought. But the rains in October and November were not sufficient enough to last this long. People are scampering for the little green places that are available, which are actually disappearing fast. So in a few weeks, there is going to be no pasture where the livestock can be grazed on. And these people depend on livestock for a living. It’s their everything, so unless action is taken immediately, we are talking about them losing their livelihood,” he points out.
Because this year’s severe dry season extends beyond Kenya’s borders, Mgendi says herdsmen from neighboring countries also feel the need to infringe on what is left of Kenya’s meager grazing lands.
“Those rains would normally provided enough pasture to last up until this time. But as I’m speaking right now, people from southern Somalia and western Ethiopia are also migrating into the places where there is pasture, which only happens to be northeastern Kenya,” he notes.
Mgendi says that rescuers’ greatest fear is that cross-border migration into Kenya could generate conflict among herders and deplete remaining water resources entirely. He says the Kenyan government has given little attention to the problem this year because of its urgent focus on resettling hundreds of thousands of internally displaced citizens who fled their homes in the violence triggered by last December’s disputed presidential vote.