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Drought exacerbating conflict among pastoralists

A young Turkana man armed with an AK-47 rifle, Oropoi, northwestern Kenya, 18 February 2007. Conflicts involving pastoralists associated with resource competition, cattle rustling and arms are widespread and of increasing concern in the region.
(Siegfried Modola/IRIN)

Clashes over water and pasture have significantly increased in the drought-affected pastoralist areas of north-eastern Kenya, officials said.

"The conflicts surround access to water and pasture," Titus Mung’ou, acting Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) communications manager, told IRIN on 30 January. "The conflicts have increased with the drought."

Dozens of people, he said, had died in clashes over water in Mandera since September 2008. "There have also been conflicts between the Orma and Wardei communities [in the Tana River area] in which about five people died," Mung’ou said.

One more person was killed in the Tana River area last week.

"Around 150,000 people were already relying on food aid in parts of the north-east, which are perennial drought areas even before the current drought, due to a combination of factors including recurrent drought, flooding and inter-clan clashes," Mung'ou said.

Water scarcity was forcing population migration in the north-eastern districts of Ijara and Wajir. In the areas where water is available, it is poor quality, affecting the health of residents, said KRCS.

Isiolo, Marsabit and Samburu districts, in the north, had also been hard-hit by drought and were experiencing severe food shortages, massive population displacement and deaths from conflict over control of water points and pasture.

In January, for example, at least 15 people died in fighting between Somali and Samburu pastoralists in Oldonyiro and Isiolo central division, according to the Isiolo district peace and reconciliation committee. In total 40 people have died in the three districts.

Committee chairman Hassan Galma said fighting had aggravated food insecurity by disrupting livelihoods and displacing hundreds of families. "Poverty and a harsh life are causing a major crisis … some elders have also failed to control the youth," Galma said.

The insecurity has worsened the plight of pastoralist communities, said Isiolo resident Hussein Ali, adding that traditional conflict resolution mechanisms were failing to rein in warring communities as competition for resources intensified.

Shariff Hassan, whose brother was killed in an attack last week in Isiolo, told IRIN his family had lost all its camels in the attack, making it difficult to feed the children.

Revenge attacks and cattle-rustling were additional factors, Isiolo district officer Geodfrey Manyama said. "Pastoralists from Laikipia, Marsabit, Samburu and Wajir have all moved to graze in these [clash-affected] areas. It is a very delicate situation," he said.

The clashes have forced children out of school. "Many children, more than 1,000 from the Baragoi area [in Samburu] have moved with their parents and they will not be going back to school soon," Joseph Leparua, a member of a local NGO, the Samburu Community Development Support, said.

Drought and famine-related stress had also led to an increase in cattle-rustling and banditry in Turkana and neighbouring West Pokot.

The clashes have intensified as Kenya grapples with a food crisis estimated to be affecting about 10 million people. Experts blame the shortages on crop failure due to poor rains, high food prices and the decimation of goats and sheep by a viral disease, peste de petits ruminants, in pastoral areas.

Post-election violence in early 2008 also affected farming activities, reducing output in the main grain-producing areas.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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