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Prolonged drought driving pastoralist conflict at Kenya-Somalia border

by AlertNet correspondent | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 11 November 2010 11:28 GMT

p>WAJIR, Kenya (AlertNet) Â? Pastoralists struggling with prolonged drought near Kenya's border with Somalia are sparking conflict at the region's remaining active wells as they drive their herds increasing distances in a desperate search for water, families say.

Competition over water resources is pitting an influx of herders with camels, goats and cattle against residents of towns like Hadado, where locals are now using force to block newcomers from using the area's single active well.

"Fighting over resources between the locals and other herders occurs every day and the situation is getting out of hand," said Daud Dimbil, a village elder in Hadado. "They attack each other with sticks and many people from both sides have been taken to hospital due to bruises and cuts they have sustained."

"If the situation goes on like this for another one month, then we expect armed violence as each community will take arms and try to control the water borehole," Dimbil said.

A drought which began in June in arid regions of northern Kenya is dividing pastoralist families, forcing women and children to beg in the region's towns as men drive their herds as far as 300 kilometers in search of fast-vanishing grass and water.

Drought and scorching sun are hardly unfamiliar in the arid region. But unusually prolonged drought Â? believed linked to climate change - and increasing competition for scarce resources have made this year's problems particularly severe and driven unusual levels of conflict.

Herders faced with drought normally move their livestock to areas along the border between Kenya and Somalia, where they can find pasture and water until the start of the rainy season.

But this year, herders from Hadado and Wajir Â? about 200 kilometres from the Somali border Â? found that other herders from northern Kenya and southern Somalia had already moved into the area and used up the grass and water.

LAST GRASS HAS VANISHED

"There is no pasture remaining even along the border which was our last resort during drought periods. We don't know what to do," said Bishar Nur, a herder from the Diif area of Wajir.

"We cannot sell now as our livestock have lost weight and traders are not interested in buying. In one month you will see carcasses around here," Nur said.

The drought has dried up many of the region's wells and water storage areas used by pastoralists. Low levels of stagnant water in other wells have led to an increase in diseases like malaria, cholera, skin ailments and tuberculosis. Livestock have also been dying of unusual diseases and exhaustion from their long treks to find water.

Ibrahim Sheikh, 45, a herder based in the Gerrile area, said the situation is now worse than in previous droughts, when herders would lose some animals but rains would generally return after two months.

"I have lost 100 head of cattle over the past three months and there is no hope that it will end soon," he said. "The remaining herds of cattle are weak and cannot move to another area in search of pasture water. I fear I will lose all my treasure."

The weather, he said, "is strange as in past years the drought use to go for two months before we start getting rain but things are different now."

The area's last severe drought came five years ago, when thousands of livestock died and drought continued until December, he said.

At that time, "we lost everything and later on it claimed human lives. The current period has same similarities," he said.

WOMEN, CHILDREN TURN TO BEGGING

Faced with the unrelenting drought and a lack of options, pastoralist women and children have fled to the region's towns to seek refuge with relatives. Young boys and women now line the streets of major towns in northern Kenya, including Wajir and Garissa, looking for handouts.

One of the women in Garissa, who identified herself as Halima Harun, said she and her family had left their village 250 kilometres away after running out of food and water and struggling with skin diseases.

"The situation in my village in Gurufa is bad," she said. After her husband took their herds to the border area in search of grazing, "we missed milk, food, water and sometime we went without drinking water for a number of days. People got various diseases and they ran away."

Non-governmental organizations in the region are trying to supply tanker water to ease the problems, but the intervention has not reached all the communities, herders said.

Abjata Khalif is a freelance journalist, based in Wajir, Kenya, with an interest in climate change issues.

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