Drought drives Kenyan pastoralists into Uganda

Date: Feb 16, 2017

Pastoralists in Kenya's northern Turkana County are crossing into neighbouring Uganda in search of pasture as a severe drought devastates their country.

Turkana herders ordinarily travel long distances to graze and water their animals, but in recent months they have been forced to go even further. Kenya recorded low rainfall in October and November last year, and the next rainy season is due in April. The arid livestock-dependent north has seen the worst of the drought, which the government declared a national disaster.

In Moroto, Uganda about 30 000 herders have camped near Kobebe dam, a reservoir constructed in 1962 to supply the country's 
pastoralist Karamojong community with water all year round. Ekai Atuk is a Kenyan pastoralist who brought his family and animals to Uganda.

"I travelled quite a long distance from Kenya, following rivers along the way, but whenever we settled in a new place we soon run out of water and pasture and it was getting too dry for the animals. I finally arrived here in January. I have lost very many animals because of the drought and some of them are still very weak," said Atuk.

The Turkana rely almost entirely on their livestock to survive, a nomadic way of life that has survived generations. Their neighbours, like the Pokot and Samburu are also pastoralists so cattle raids are a part of their history, especially during periods of scarce water and pasture.

With time, Traditional weapons were replaced with firearms. Ugandan authorities say the herders are not allowed to keep their guns when they come into the country. Recently, security officials and community leaders from both sides held a meeting to discuss regulations for the pastoralists to stay in the country. Kenyan pastrolists agreed to surrender their weapons while they are grazing in Ugandan territory.

Peter Eripete the County Secretary for Turkana says the real challenge is finding longer-term solutions so pastoralists do not have to cross the border during dry spells.

"The ground water resources are not enough to sustain the communities during the drought season. We are now embarking on major big dams. The first one will be in Turkana north costing approximately 200 million; the second one will be in Turkana west where we are neighbouring from where we are. If we are able to do that and successfully build a big dam, then we should be able to retain our pastoralists in our own country," he said.

Turkana County is one of the poorest parts of Kenya. The harsh climate here also makes it difficult for those who have taken up farming to grow any crops in the arid region. At the market in Lodwar, the main town in Turkana, traders says they are counting losses as food prices skyrocket. Most produce is brought in from bordering towns but stocks there are also running out. Rose Akiru sells vegetables at the market.

"We buy this cabbage for two dollars and we need to make a profit as traders, so it becomes difficult to add a markup on produce, not to mention, potatoes that have also become expensive. The transportation costs are high. It has become very difficult to do business in this market because of the ongoing drought," she said.

"The pastoralist communities have already migrated, some are already in Uganda, others are probably even in South Sudan. So even when we buy stock we don't have customers to sell to. The goods don't move," said another trader, David Erot.

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has called for local and international partners to support the government's efforts to deal with the drought. Kenya has set aside about 70 million US dollars for drought mitigation efforts but says it needs to raise a further 100 million more from donors to fund the programme.


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