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I moved to the northern part of Kenya last year and for the duration that I have been here I have lost count of the number conflicts that I have heard or witnessed. Early this year, I was caught in the middle of a deadly clash at Leparua, along the border of Isiolo and Laikipia Counties that left three people dead and one person nursing serious injuries. The area is home to the traditionally pastoralist Samburu, Ndorobo, Turkana, Somali and Borana communities. The fight broke out after some morans from Samburu community had raided and stolen sixty heads of cattle from their Ndorobo neighbor.

What caught my attention, however, was the Isiolo Deputy County Commissioner’s statement that conflict between the communities has ‘escalated in the recent times’. The statement was echoed by my colleagues, acquaintances and friends. One study I looked at later on stated that, ‘violent conflicts involving pastoralists have become widespread and increasingly severe in the North Rift and North Eastern regions of Kenya.’

Apart from Leparua, several conflicts have been reported in the North Rift, North Eastern, North Western as well as other parts of Kenya. Another clash that left several people dead, houses burnt and scores injured was reported along the border of Kisumu and Nandi Counties around the same time for the same reasons.

What could be the reason behind escalation of these conflicts?

Livestock is a symbol of wealth and source of livelihood among the pastoralists. Land ownership among the pastoralists is still largely communal. Sharing pastures and water is therefore inevitable and competition is unavoidable when the resources become scarce. Recently, the natural resources required to sustain pastoralism have been diminishing. Water sources are drying up and grazing pastures are shrinking due to frequent and severe drought and famine.

Rainfall and drought data and household surveys from northern Kenya confirm that the ‘frequency and severity of droughts have increased in recent decades, with episodes of moderate to severe drought occurring more frequently since the 1980s’. Data collected from Lodwar, indicated decrease in rainfall by 13 millimeters between 1950-1973 and 1974-2008. Long rains in central Kenya have declined by more than 100 millimeters since the mid-1970s. This is clear evidence of climate change.

When the areas occupied by pastoralists experience prolonged drought due to change in climate as has been the case in the recent past, the communities lose unimaginably large numbers of their livestock. This often results in raiding and cattle rustling to replenish the lost stock and brutal fights over the diminishing natural resources.

Between September and December 2008, scores of people died during clashes over water in Mandera. In 2008/2009, when Kenya was hit by one of the most devastating droughts in history, the northern part was the most affected. Isiolo, Marsabit and Samburu experienced severe food shortages, massive population displacement and loss of lives.

In January 2009, about 40 people lost their lives while fighting over water and pasture in the three areas alone. Children were forced out of school and livestock affected by climate related diseases. Violent fights, water scarcity and poor water quality forced massive migration in Ijara and Wajir. Over 10 million people across the country were hit by food insecurity.

On May 2nd, 2011, in what later became known as the infamous Todonyang massacre, 28 Turkana traders, mainly children and women, were attacked, brutally killed and bodies mutilated by Dassanech’s Merille militia. A total of 46 people died later in a retaliatory attack by Turkana warriors. The conflict was instigated by climate induced natural resource scarcity (fish, water and grazing pastures).

Sadly, it is projected that average temperatures in Kenya are likely to increase in the range of 1-3° Celsius by the 2050s yet a warming of more than 1° Celsius may exacerbate drying impacts, especially in lowland areas. If this happens, the conflicts may escalate further.

To tame the conflicts, deaths, injuries, migrations and food insecurity all we need to do is to mitigate climate change by keeping global warming below 1.5°Celcius. Climate change is injustice and injustice anywhere is everywhere. Our actions anywhere affect the whole system.

We can therefore take action wherever we are to curb climate change. Simple acts like tree planting, switching off lights when not in use, avoiding products that harm the environment, wise waste disposal to curb greenhouse gas emissions from landfills, adopting renewable and clean energy e.g. biogas, solar and wind power, water and energy conservation, cutting down on air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, discouraging deforestation, use of charcoal, coal and fossil fuels, protection of water catchment areas, stocking the right number of livestock, adopting sustainable land use practices, creating awareness and educating others about climate change, its impacts and what we can do to save our planet will go a long way!


Originally published at Standard Media

Jonathan Odongo

About Jonathan Odongo

Jonathan Odongo is the Founder & Executive Director of Kenya Environmental Education Network (www.keenet.org). He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Education from Kenyatta University, Kenya.