Turkana herders find help in Ethiopia as drought persists

A Turkana family feeds on wild fruits due to the biting hunger.

A prolonged drought in Turkana County is worsening by the day, with residents now forced to cover much longer distances in search of food, water and pasture for their weakening livestock.

The risk of starvation for both people and animals is increasing in the county and authorities are appealing for urgent humanitarian intervention.

According to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), 80 percent of reliable water sources have already dried up because of underperformance of 2020 and 2021 short and long rains that would have recharged groundwater and sustained a higher water table, the depth at which water is found below the surface.

"The water table is currently lower due to enhanced evaporation from the prolonged hotter days. Strategic boreholes are experiencing pressure and high likelihood of breakages,” said NDMA emergency response official Joseph Lotwel.

“We have reports from water user associations calling for urgent repairs."

He said that locals are trekking up to eight kilometres to access water from boreholes whose cost has risen from Sh5 to Sh10 for a 20-litre jerrican.

"There is an upsurge of contagious livestock diseases as a result of massive migration where livestock are out of their confined grazing fields and are concentrated on the border with Uganda and South Sudan where we also expect conflicts over limited pasture and water," Mr Lotwel said.

The critical Kapatadie water pan that was the only one on the Kenyan side with water is drying up, forcing locals to migrate to neighbouring South Sudan, where they are at risk of attacks from heavily armed militia from the Toposa pastoral community.

Camels quenching their thirst at the only functional borehole within Sopel village in Turkana County.

Photo credit: Sammy Lutta | Nation Media Group

"The Kapatadie water pan is the only one with a small volume relied on by locals, livestock and wild animals,” said county Disaster Management executive Charles Lokioto on Tuesday.

In search of water

“There is a desperate need for water at the border because last month, I witnessed an elephant carcass that might have died due to covering a long distance in search of water as other water pans have completely dried up."

Authorities and elders from Kenya's Kibish village with a large concentration of livestock have agreed with their counterparts from the neighbouring Nyangatom community of Ethiopia to have their pastoralists access water and pasture across the border on the Tirga hills.

Kibish sub-county peace officer Achegei Abdi Adan said Turkana pastoralists have been reporting high numbers of livestock that are dying due to drought.

"We are relieved that Ethiopian authorities assured Kenyan authorities that they will take care of Turkana pastoralists who fear being attacked by militias that are hoping to take advantage of the desperate situation to steal livestock," Mr Adan said.

He said pastoralists from Turkana County are willing to coordinate with their neighbours to promote peaceful coexistence as the drought in Kibish is unbearable because grazing areas and water points in the area cannot sustain their population.

He said five groups of herders had crossed into Ethiopia with hundreds of cattle, goats and sheep and it was agreed that both peace and security authorities should visit them frequently.

Turkana County Director of Meteorology Francis Muinga said that it was likely temperatures would continue rising, with the onset of rains expected in the first week of April.

"The county is experiencing hotter days, with temperatures between 38-39 degrees Celsius, and by March 21, when the sun will be overhead on the equator, they will go as high as 40 with a cloudless sky," Mr Muinga said.

Turkana West MP Daniel Epuyo and five ward representatives reiterated that the prolonged drought has pushed Turkana pastoralists towards the porous border, where they are at the risk of being attacked by heavily armed militia if peacebuilding missions are not prioritised.

Mr Epuyo listed Songot, Lokichoggio and Nanaam wards as areas where mass migration might result in conflicts over pasture and water.

"There is no fodder within the normal secure areas of Turkana West, Turkana North and Kibish sub-counties, where the situation has forced our pastoralists to move to banditry-prone areas," he said.

The border, he said, needs big dams that would hold water for longer periods to minimise migrations towards insecure border areas.