Drought worsens in Taita Taveta as locals demand quick intervention

 A herder blocks his cattle to give way to elephants at Choke ranch in Taita Taveta County. The ongoing drought has made livestock and wildlife share water in the local ranches.

Photo credit: Liucy Mkanyika I Nation Media Group

The drought has taken a heavy toll on livestock in Taita Taveta County, with residents and leaders now calling for the government to help mitigate the situation.

A spot check by Nation.Africa revealed that dried-up water pans and barren fields dominate some parts of the county, with Voi sub-county bearing the brunt of the dry spell.

The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) said over 75,000 people are in dire need of food and water.  

The county did not receive enough rain in the last season to sustain pasture and provide adequate water for domestic and livestock use. 

Residents told Nation.Africa that they were worried they might lose their livestock.

Mr Donald Malombo, from the Ngolia area, said the situation is worsening because the April-May failed.

Mr Malombo said the drought had taken a toll on animals and asked the government to help them survive the drought.

He said residents are unable to find pasture and their weak animals can no longer produce milk.

"Our cattle are emaciated. They cannot walk for long hours yet they have to walk to get water and pasture," he said.

Between July last year and April this year, 78 elephants died due to the effects of drought in the Tsavo ecosystem.

The scramble for resources between wildlife and humans is escalating in the county due to the proximity of the Tsavo National Park to the community. 

Cases of human-wildlife conflict have increased in the area, with elephants invading community water points and breaking tanks at homes.

Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala had said the government would set up 13 water pans in the landscape to cushion wildlife from thirst. 

However, speaking to residents in Manga, Voi, area MP Jones Mlolwa asked the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to allow residents to graze their cattle in the Tsavo park. 

"The situation in the county is desperate. People are walking for many kilometres in search of water and pasture for domestic and livestock use," he said.

He said the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013 allows residents to access the park for water and pasture during drought.

He said livestock farmers are suffering yet the vast park is lying idle with no benefit to residents. 

"A huge chunk of our land has been grabbed by KWS. We want the boundaries to be reviewed so that our people can graze their cattle in the park. This is not a request, it is a demand," he said.

He urged leaders in the county to work together to ensure that the lands that were unlawfully taken over by KWS revert to the community. 

"The next county assembly should sit and pass a motion to revert our land that was taken by KWS. We will take it from there," he said.

The MP said his sentiments were not meant to incite residents but were a fight for the rights of locals. 

Echoing the MP's sentiments, Sagalla MCA Godwin Kilele said residents have for years faced human-wildlife conflict, especially during dry seasons when wild animals invade local farms.

He said despite the suffering, compensation from the government was not forthcoming. 

"Unfortunately, we cannot access the park for grazing yet the wildlife terrorise us day and night," he said. 

NDMA county coordinator Gabriel Mbogho said the agency was monitoring the situation. 

Mr Mbogho said the government was working on measures to mitigate the biting drought through a cash transfer programme and supply of animal feeds.

"We are in the alert stage but the situation is deteriorating. The pasture situation is worse in Voi sub-county. In Mwatate, Taveta and Wundanyi the situation is better," he said.

He said no livestock deaths had been reported in the county but warned that areas like Marungu, Kasighau, Sagalla, Mbololo and Ngolia were feeling the pinch of the drought due to a lack of pasture for their livestock.