Climate refugees of Marsabit on a long journey with no end

Wario Godana with his children who no longer go to school as the only primary school in the area closed down after floods marooned the area.


What you need to know:

  • The weather patterns shifted rapidly, and we experienced extreme and destructive weather events like never before.
  • It was during the peak of the drought in northern Kenya that we learned the harsh reality of our changing climate.

As the harsh reality of climate change began to unfold in the Horn of Africa, Wario Godana, a 56-year-old resident of Badan Rero village in Marsabit County, found himself at the forefront of its devastating impacts. Reflecting on the past, Wario recalled how climate change was an unheard-of concept that received little attention from the pastoralist communities in the region.

"When I was younger, the concept of climate change was foreign to us and we paid it little attention. But now the devastating impacts of climate change have become alarmingly clear and it is imperative that we take action before it's too late."

However, in the last two years, the shifting weather patterns and extreme weather events became increasingly palpable, leaving communities with no choice but to acknowledge the urgent need for climate solutions.

During the peak of a prolonged drought caused by five consecutive failed rain seasons, Wario and his community experienced firsthand the dire consequences of climate change.

Wario Godana at his cattle enclosure that was left empty following the death of his livestock.


"Between 2020 and 2022, reality hit us like a hammer. The weather patterns shifted rapidly, and we experienced extreme and destructive weather events like never before. It was during the peak of the drought in northern Kenya that we learned the harsh reality of our changing climate.”

Wario shared the heartbreaking tale of losing over 200 cattle in 2022, leaving him reliant on humanitarian aid for survival. In a desperate attempt to save his livestock from the unforgiving effects of climate change, he became a climate refugee, traversing various counties and even crossing into the neighbouring Ethiopia in search of pasture.

"Desperate to save my remaining livestock, I traversed through Isiolo, Mandera, Samburu and even the neighbouring Ethiopia in search of greener pastures. But my efforts were in vain. I lost over 190 more cattle to the drought, which left me destitute and in dire need. The 10 cattle that survived were mere skeletons."

Unfortunately, this plight was not unique to Wario alone but was shared by the entire community, comprising 85 families, who had also lost significant numbers of their livestock.

As Wario sought refuge in different regions, he was confronted with new and hostile environments that threatened his survival and that of his livestock. The relocation often meant leaving his wife behind or embarking on arduous journeys of over 300 kilometers with his entire family in tow. Arriving at satellite camps with new grazing fields, they faced additional challenges such as increased predator exposure and scarcity of food, often relying on diminishing cow and goat milk. Their presence in these areas sometimes led to tensions with the host communities.

"They would deny us access to grazing lands, further exposing us to the risk of disputes or banditry. I vividly remember the inter-tribal clashes that occurred in January 2022, when my family lost five members. These clashes were with the Degodia community from neighbouring Wajir County, sparked by the fight for pasture and water sources. The Degodias also suffered six losses in this tragic event.

The climate and environmental hazards had an even more profound impact on Wario's children, affecting their well-being and future prospects. The children endured multiple climate shocks while lacking essential services such as clean water, sanitation and healthcare in the grazing fields.

After an extended period of drought, the arrival of the long rains in April this year unexpectedly resulted in the isolation of the area. On May 11, all the roads were cut off, making it impossible for anyone to reach the area. Consequently, humanitarian organisations like the Red Cross Society and the county government had to distribute relief aid via helicopters.

Badan Rero Primary School suffered immensely during this time as it remained closed for over three weeks due to the teachers' inability to access the institution. Many pupils had also relocated to schools in nearby towns such as Moyale, Marsabit or Isiolo, resulting in a significant decrease in enrollment from 225 to 119 pupils.

Mohammed Bonaya, the acting headteacher of the school, recounted the adverse impact of climate change on learning. He highlighted how many children had to move with their parents to satellite camps in search of grazing land during the devastating drought.

"It is a poignant reminder of how climate change disrupts not only their immediate surroundings but also the aspirations and opportunities of our young learners," said Mohammed Bonaya, acting head teacher of the school.

The irregular attendance caused by climate-related issues led to a significant disruption in the syllabus coverage. This necessitated teachers finding ways to compensate for the lost time, which proved to be a nearly impossible task.

Assistant County Commissioner in charge of Sericho Division Kevin Ben Okoth said the water crisis had seen pupils, especially girls, on and off school, in order to help their mothers source the commodity.

"Many cannot concentrate in class as they know they will be required to leave school early to help fetch water and firewood several kilometers away, thereby affecting their performance," Mr Okoth said.

Recently during their stay near the borders of Samburu and Isiolo counties, Wario's four children and his wife Muumina Wario contracted severe malaria. This forced Wario to embark on a five-hour trek to reach the nearest town in order to catch a bus and rush his family to Isiolo Referral Hospital for treatment before returning home.

With increasing climate change events and the vulnerability of the pastoral system to environmental degradation and food insecurity, the Marsabit County government is contemplating new livelihood opportunities. Governor Mohamud Ali has called on residents to explore non-pastoral options such as small-scale trades, beekeeping, poultry keeping, and gum arabic and resin harvesting, among others.

"Our pastoralist communities have been severely affected by the recent drought, resulting in the loss of at least 80 per cent of their livestock, which has always been their main source of livelihood," Mr Ali stated. "This calls for a paradigm shift towards diversifying our sources of income."

Governor Ali emphasised his government's commitment to training pastoralists in non-livestock options as a means of assisting residents in diversifying their livelihoods. He expressed concern that the livelihood of pastoralist communities continued to be constrained by various natural, social, economic and environmental challenges, including recurring droughts.

The governor expressed concern that policymakers had long neglected the potential of livelihood diversification in remote areas and pastoral communities until circumstances escalated.

School-going children tending goats at Badan Rero area on May 24. Scores of children have dropped out of school to help their parents look after the surviving livestock. 


Janet Ahadho, director of the Marsabit Environment and Climate Change Department, affirmed that the county government had implemented localised climate change adaptation and resilience legislation and policies with a focus on gender mainstreaming.

"We have adopted and customised laws and policies to support women, youth and persons with disabilities in climate change adaptation and resilience efforts in Marsabit County," said Mr Ahadho.

The move towards livelihood diversification is expected to provide alternative income streams, reduce dependency on livestock and build resilience against climate change impacts. By promoting various trades and activities, the county government aims to empower communities and foster sustainable development in the face of ongoing environmental challenges.