Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Kenya's Drought

 Kenya’s remote Marsabit County, in the far north near the border with Ethiopia, is the land of pastoralists. But as East Africa faces a debilitating succession of droughts, the worst in 40 years, the region’s resilient communities are being pushed to their limits.

A couple of decades ago it seemed like a different place: There were wild animals abound, abundant wild fruits for foraging, plenty of space for everyone’s animals; things were peaceful.

“Everyone had plenty of animals then,” Benjamin Galwaha remembers. “We ate meat all the time. But life has gotten much tougher now.” He says, “We’ve had to switch back to the wage economy, from a self-sustaining lifestyle that we’re proud of where cattle signal wealth and determine integral social relations.” 

The traditionally nomadic or semi-nomadic Rendille, Samburu, Borana and Turkana people native to the region are proud of their cultural identity as livestock herders. as many as 90 percent of Marsabit inhabitants do not live in permanent homes and instead move with their animals based on seasonal forage and available water sources.

It is also a region of intense poverty: 92 percent of the population lives below the poverty line; it has some of the nation’s lowest literacy rates at around 27 percent; and its remoteness contributes to its marginalisation and lack of integration with greater Kenyan society.

 Their animals have been dying off and becoming increasingly ill since the rains have failed.

The county is known for limited and erratic rainfall, receiving an average of 700mm (27 inches) of rainfall a year during the past 30 years, says Patricia Nying’uro, a climate scientist at the Kenya Meteorological Department - for comparison, Tanzania, Kenya’s southern neighbour, receives an average of 1,017mm (40 inches).

“There is a steady annual decline in rainfall amounts,” Nying’uro tells Al Jazeera. “The area is indeed getting drier.”

This is tough for both humans and animals, who must walk increasingly great distances to reach remaining water sources, while the endemic vegetation does not receive rainfall to regenerate.

In February 2022, there were an estimated 3.1 million food-insecure people in northern Kenya, a 40 percent increase from August 2021. More people have been going hungry since the lack of rains is directly linked to crop failures; food prices have been surging.

Herders have been forced to sell off their animals at prices far below market value since they have been dying from the trying conditions; milk has largely dried up. Instead of harbouring dreams to buy prize cattle, people are now just trying to survive.

This is the fourth consecutive failed rainy season since September 2020, according to Nicolas Bellet, a climate information expert at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Applications Center.

“It’s important to note that these communities are highly resilient. They are fine in the face of one or two droughts, maybe even three. But four is really pushing it," he says. "This is devastating in the sense that it takes these communities on average five years to recover from one drought - the time it takes to raise a calf to maturity. When droughts are back-to-back like this, it’s decimating their livelihoods, all of their wealth. These people are really being pushed to their limits.”

The dwindling supply of viable forage is pushing livestock herders to desperation, some having to walk as far as 35km (21 miles) a day to the last remaining watering holes - naturally occurring high water tables - just to keep their animals alive. As herders have been forced to walk far distances from one area to another in search of water and pasture – venturing into areas where they traditionally have not gone – incidents of conflict have spiked over limited grazing and water.

In politically and socioeconomically marginalised regions, such as Marsabit, where the government has a history of being absent from regulating land disputes and empowering local communities, individuals are largely left to fend for themselves.

Ulrich Eberle, a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University and Crisis Group, researches the links between climate shocks and violence. He has found that a 1C (1.8F) increase in temperature can lead to up to a 54 percent increase in conflict probability in mixed areas populated by both farmers and herders, 17 percent in areas occupied by just farmers or herders.

Overall, people have been more willing to risk internecine conflict given their animals’ needs.

‘Everything is dry’: Kenya droughts put herding cultures at risk | Drought | Al Jazeera

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