Climate shocks fueling conflict among pastrolists in ASALs

Tuesday, September 26th, 2023 02:30 | By
A desperate pastrolist leans beside his dead camel during a past drought season. PHOTO/Kwach Wakhisi
A desperate pastrolist leans beside his dead camel during a past drought season. PHOTO/Kwach Wakhisi

In the midst of the scorching sun and navigating the dusty fields in the little village of Alamach situated about eight kilometres from Isiolo town in Isiolo County, Sammy Lorere carefully leads his herd of cattle to a borehole water point so that they can quench their thirst.

Sammy, a father of six children has for the last 30 years eked his living as a pastoralist and farmer, and knows too well how dire the situation can get when there is no pasture or water to give to his animals.

“In the past years, the Isiolo River never used to dry up. The river would flow freely and there was a lot of vegetation around to feed the animals. But over the past five years, the situation on the ground has become worrying. The river has dried up and even when there is rainfall, it isn’t enough to sustain it forcing many pastoralists to look for other places where their animals can feed and drink water,” says Lorere.

Creating conflict

Lorere says this particular borehole was drilled at the area through the intervention of the Isiolo County Government. However, due to the high population and a large number of cattle in the area, it cannot sustain all of them and sometimes it is a matter of first come first served.

“Due to the limited water resources and grazing lands, some pastoralists have been forced to go to Oldonyiro and as far as the neighbouring Samburu County to seek the resources, a situation which has caused conflict,” she explains.

Janet Leparsanti, a Community Land Management Committee member from the Sarara community in Samburu says women, especially have greatly been affected by the effects of climate change.

“We have no permanent settlement as a community, because we keep moving with our livestock, and women suffer the most,” says Leparsanti.

“Expectant mothers suffer miscarriages due to the movement from one place to another. The school routine for many children is disrupted and during their search for pasture, mothers are forced to carry their young children on their backs. Along the way, they often meet with wild animals, such as elephants, which are dangerous,” adds Leparsanti.

In the wake of the recent Africa Climate Summit held in Nairobi, Leparsanti and many other women from her community hope that funds can be set aside to assist women from pastoralist communities.

Ahmed Set, Chairman of Isiolo Interfaith Network says increase in population has made competition for water and pasture among pastoralists very stiff.

“Pastoralists in the county have so many animals, such as cows, sheep, goats, and camels, which they do not want to dispose hoping that the drought will subside. Hence you find them fighting for water points and grass, which is minimal. These conflicts have in turn affected the cycle of human life,” says Set who also serves as the Treasurer at the National Council of Elders.

“The conflicts often lead to death, destruction of vegetation and destablises children’s education. This cycle is very dangerous,” he adds.

There have also been cases of neighbouring counties, such as Wajir moving into the territory of Isiolo and initiating water projects, a move which the leaders say will spark conflicts between the pastoral communities living around the border.

Isiolo Governor Abdi Ibrahim Guyo warned that the move by the Wajir County Government to initiate a borehole project in Isiolo was provoking the local population and causing unnecessary tension in the area and asked Wajir Governor to carry out development projects within his county.

Geoffrey Omoding, Isiolo County Commissioner says the county government is keen on addressing the issue of climate change and water shortage; hence it has set aside Sh16.5 billion for the construction of the Crocodile Jaw Dam in Oldonyiro, which is going to serve the people of Isiolo, Samburu and neighbouring counties. “We have also set aside Sh6 billion for construction of Kumbi Gallo Dam in Merti Sub-County to address the challenge of water,” he says.

Isiolo being a vast county, Omoding says they are encouraging people to reside in settlements so that they can have easy access to social amenities, such as schools, hospitals, trading facilities among others.

“This is a wake-up call for people to register their parcels of land so that we do not have to deal with conflicts, which have occurred as a result of unregistered land, says Omoding.

Consolata Lomilio, President Isiolo Voice of Women Network says families of many pastoralists have been greatly affected since when men move hundreds of kilometres away in search of water and pasture for their animals, the women and children are left behind with no food and milk. “These women have to step in and look for alternative means to fend for their children. On the other hand, for those pastoralists who fully relied on their animals for income, their businesses have been greatly affected due to the drought and they end up selling their animals at low prices just to be able to sustain their lives,” says Lomilio who also serves as Chairlady of Burat Ward Planning Committee.

Community empowerment

Lomilio says they have set up ward committees in the area who educate the community on the importance of drilling boreholes and fodder production whereby they can construct large stores to store their fodder, which goes a long way in cushioning them during the dry seasons. “We have talked to many women who are pastoralists and empowered them to join Village Loans Savings Association (VSLA). We meet these women on a weekly basis and teach them on the importance of saving for the future and also educate them on matters agro-ecology whereby they are taught on how to rear chicken, set up kitchen gardens in their homes so that they can become resilient even in times of drought,” she explains.

The expansion of the town is a good sign. However, there is fear among pastoralists that with the many settlements, there will be a reduction of grazing lands, which will even spur more conflict. “A lot of awareness needs to be created among pastoralists who need to be equipped with other alternatives to earn an income so that they can plan their lives effectively,” says Lorere.

“Pastoralists need to know that they can dispose of their animals when they are still healthy instead of waiting until they are emaciated, and save the money to start another project. They do not need to keep too many cattle just to show people that they are rich. They can sell these animals and use the proceeds to educate their children and even construct rental houses which can cushion them during those tough dry seasons,” he adds.

Set says there is need for both the county and national governments to educate pastoralist communities that the weather situation is not as it was before, hence they need to be flexible and scale down animals when they reach certain levels.

He also notes that there is need for a mega water programme to be implemented to address the problem of water shortage, which contributes to conflict.

“With the predicted El-Nino rains coming, people should be informed and those in flooding areas or along seasonal rivers should move further away. We need more water sources in the interior parts of Isiolo since people from these areas end up scooping water from sand which is not healthy. The government also needs to come up with ways on how this water will be channeled to one source and be conserved for future use,” Set says in conclusion.

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