Words from Kenya

Drought and Conflict

Dead Donkey with a veiw North Horr

The November rains failed over much of the north of Kenya. These were important rains, they would normally provide more than enough pasture to get through the short dry season, but not this year.

Ordinarily livestock don’t need to move far from their home area during the short dry season; unlike the much greater migration for pasture witnessed from May to November, the long dry season. This year things are different, many animals have already had to move vast distances to find pasture. Some herds never returned home, leaving the young and the old, the people normally left behind when long migrations are necessary, especially vulnerable.

The November rains also recharge shallow water sources. Dams, wells and many boreholes, dry or low after the long dry season, have not refilled. The distance people and animals have to travel to water should have decreased since November, in most places it hasn’t, it’s increased. Now large areas are too far from any water source for life to be tenable.

The failed rains, and their consequences, are happening against a backdrop of the most widespread outbreaks of local conflict and violence the north has seen for many years. Each local conflict is not in itself unusual but that so many are happening across the north at the same time is.

Conflict and drought have certain traits in common; they both kill and displace people and livestock. Currently in the north of Kenya people who would, by and large, be living and grazing within their home areas at this time of year are instead dispersed all over the place. Conflict has moved people out of their homes and pushed people to find safer grazing and watering areas. Drought has forced others to leave their homes and travel to find pasture and water.

The consequence, large numbers of desperate people and animals are getting forced into smaller and smaller areas. Some are taking the risk of crossing into Ethiopia and Uganda for safety and pasture. Others are crowding into the areas of northern Kenya that are still both safe and offer some pasture. As pressure on the limited resources increases, from all these additional people and animals, new conflicts will become increasingly likely in these previously safe areas.

For much of the north the April rains are the short rains, providing only a few weeks of respite before the long dry season. Even at best they are unlikely to do more than put off the many problems people in the north are facing this year. But if the April rains also fail the situation here is likely to become very bad very quickly.

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