As temperatures rise in parched northern Kenya, local aid worker Evans Onyiego is fighting to build peace among pastoralist communities jostling over dwindling resources.
Weeks of scant rainfall have put Samburu county on drought alert, along with at least 19 more of the country’s 47 counties. In the arid north, pasture and water sources are drying up, forcing semi-nomadic herders to travel greater distances in search of water – and driving up the risk of conflict.
“They’re competing for water. They’re competing for pasture,” says Onyiego, who heads Caritas Maralal, the Catholic church’s local social and humanitarian action arm in Samburu.
The New Humanitarian’s video series, “Faces on the front lines of local aid”, explores the work of local aid responders like Onyiego. The latest video, “The Peacebuilder”, looks at how Onyiego tries to build social cohesion among northern Kenya’s pastoralist communities in an age of climate change, which has made droughts more unpredictable and more intense.
“Local organisations are part of these communities. And whether there is a disaster or not, we still remain.”
Competition over resources has turned increasingly deadly in recent years, infused by the proliferation of automatic weapons.
“Conflicts are very tricky,” Onyiego says. “You need to be very sensitive and make sure whatever intervention you are bringing in is not worsening the situation.”
As drought impacts escalate this year, international aid groups are planning nutrition and cash aid programmes in Samburu county. Onyiego, who was born and raised here, says locals are best placed to navigate often-complicated local power structures and dynamics, though they’re frequently overlooked in the wider aid sector.
“The international organisations come in to respond to crises with a specific mandate,” he says. “If it is a disease outbreak, then they respond to that and they end there. They don’t do anything else. But the local organisations are part of these communities. And whether there is a disaster or not, we still remain.”
Onyiego’s day-to-day work focuses on giving competing communities opportunities to interact and form relationships. He encourages rival groups to meet and negotiate how to co-exist and share resources.
It’s a message shared by Jackson Odungo Kiok, a farmer and Samburu leader whose son was killed in a cattle raid. “I used to fight people,” he says. Today, he sits on a peace committee, working to reduce conflict with his former rivals.
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