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Pastoralists count losses amid biting drought in north

09 November 2014, 18:40

Wajir - This time last year, Hujale Kusow, who hails from a remote village in Wajir county, northern Kenya, was the richest man in his village.

Kusow had more than 100 camels, 50 cows and 100 goats under his name, but things later changed for the worse.

He is now facing a life of uncertainty as he has lost his livestock due to the ravaging drought and has been left with only five camels, three cows and 15 goats.

"How fortunes change very fast. I can't believe that I am the one who has been turned into a destitute in less than a year," the 50-year-old Kusow told Xinhua in an interview on Saturday.

"I have been forced to sell my treasured animals at a thrown- away price for fear of loosing them though drought," the pastoralist decries as he shelters from the scorching sun under a thinly shaded acacia tree whose leaves are falling from the hot sun.

A year of drought has hit pastoralists in Garissa, Wajir and Mandera counties, and things are not made any better with the weatherman predicting more tough times ahead with no rain in sight.

"As you can see the few remaining animals are growing weaker," Kusow said, pointing his herding stick to the animals.

The distance between the diminishing pasture areas and few remaining watering points has surged drastically, forcing the animals and the pastoralist families to trekking for many hours to access watering points.

"The camels which helped us to carry our water from the wells to the village have died. The few remaining are too weak to offer any help. What are we supposed to do in such a situation," quips Kusow.

This is not the first and obviously is not going to be the last drought that is threatening the livelihood of Kusow and thousands of other families in northern Kenya which entirely depend on pastoralism for survival.

A goat, which has been fetching about 45 U.S. dollars on good days, today hardly attracts the attention of would-be buyer.

"Recently, I took two of my goats to the market in Habaswein town. The butcher man offered to buy them with about 8 dollars each, which is a fair price considering their physical condition," he observed.

Halima Abdi, 35, with her six children, said she trekked with her three daughters, who were forced to temporally drop out of school to help their family with fetching of water.

She said it took her 6 hours on foot from her village to the borehole and she was to wait for another six hours for her turn to fetch water comes.

Speaking in a "dry" voice she said, "I left my village alone at 4 a.m. with my daughters' aged between 11 and 14 to come to the borehole. My aim was to be the first person to arrive for the morning, but I was shocked to find hundreds of other families and their livestock, which stayed over the night waiting for their turn to access the precious commodity."

She added, "My family has never had a good meal for the last two months. We just eat to survive depending on hand-outs from well-wishers which are rare. Two of my children, whom I left behind, are in danger of succumbing to starvation soon, if the government and humanitarian aid agencies don't come into our aid."

Aside from drought, numerous factors are affecting access to food in northern region, where the majority of families are dependent on livestock. Rapidly increasing populations have piled pressure on resources, and people have become less mobile.

During dry spell season, herders once moved freely across the borders of Ethiopia and Somalia in search of fresh pasture and water for their stocks.

Also read: Govt urged to restrain pastoralists

These days, national and regional boundaries, and the proliferation of small arms along them, have made it risky to do so with inter-clan conflicts and mistrusts raging in Mandera and Wajir.

According to the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) Secretary- General Abbas Gullet, drought mitigation should focus on addressing vulnerability factors through activities such as dam construction and investment in irrigation farming in marginal areas.

The prevailing drought is expected to hit an estimated 1.8 million people, the KRCS said, mostly pastoralists, agro- pastoralists and those in marginal agricultural areas in the Coast, Eastern, North Eastern and the North Rift of Kenya.

A recent joint Kenyan report by the food security steering group in Wajir county indicates that 150,000 people urgently requires food aid out of 661,941 populations of the three counties.

"Human-wildlife conflict arising from the hyenas menace has continued to impact negatively on food security. The high temperatures also accelerated the rate of evaporation in open water sources," says the report.

As life continues to become unbearable to pastoralists, men in northern Kenya are increasingly relying on their wives, many of whom sell charcoal, miraa (khat) or firewood.

Others have joined businesses like operating butcheries that were initially perceived to belong to only men, if only to make ends meet.

 - Xinhua

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