Hundreds of families in the central county of Isiolo have been displaced as deadly clashes pitting the Borana, Somali and Turkana communities escalate.
Ibrahim Sheikh Mohamud, a leader from the neighbouring Wajir region, told IRIN that at least 210 Isiolo families have been taken to the Anjara area in Wajir West in the past week. "They are now settled at Anjara but they sleep in the open. Almost all the children have pneumonia and malaria. They need tents, food assistance and drugs," Mohamud told IRIN in Isiolo.
Among those fleeing the violence are widows, orphaned children and livestock herders who have lost their herds to raiders in the past year.
"We only ferried children, women and the elderly using trucks that were offered by individuals," said Mohamud. "Some of us contributed fuel and food to assist these families; they are in a very pathetic situation."
In the latest attack on 30 March, a young girl and an adult were shot dead less than 5km from Isiolo town. Five other people, among them a female teacher, were killed on 28 March in nearby Kilimani.
According to UN sources, two ethnic Boranas were reportedly killed by suspected Turkana gunmen in the Gambella area along the Isiolo-Garba Tulla road on 30 March, raising fears the incident could spark further revenge attacks in the coming days.
Herders from Wajir and Mandera districts have also started leaving Isiolo following a government directive.
"We have lost a lot of animals and people," said Hassan Nurow, a livestock owner who was heading to Wajir. "We were expecting the government to protect us but unfortunately... [the government] instead ordered us to leave and blamed us for causing the skirmishes."
The acting permanent secretary for provincial administration and internal security, Mutea Iringo, last week ordered all migrant pastoralists to leave Isiolo.
"These people have no reason to be around. They came here because of the drought. It has rained [and] Northeastern [Province] has enough pasture, so they have to leave immediately," Iringo told IRIN.
The herders were said to have been asked by local politicians to remain in Isiolo to allow them to register to vote in the upcoming 2013 elections. Politics and planned development schemes have fuelled an upsurge in inter-communal killings and displacements in Isiolo since mid-October 2011.
According to Iringo, some of the three communities' political leaders have been instigating clashes for personnel gain. "Some of the so-called herders - claiming to be innocent - are crooks involved in the gun-running business," he said.
"They had established Isiolo as a storage place for the guns... Evidence attesting to this [is] available. Some have been arrested selling guns or while poaching."
Meanwhile, traders and business people are suffering.
"I have lost many animals. I had to sell four camels at 360,000 shillings (US$4,390) to hire home guards and rent a house for my family,” local livestock farmer Abdi Salan Sheikh, told IRIN.
He said he had lost more than 50 camels and 246 goats, and has had to move his family back to Mandera, in the northeast. "My children have been unable to secure a place in school in Mandera until next term."
Shariff Mohamed, a Somali camel milk trader in Isiolo, told IRIN business rivalry was also a problem. "We have a group of people who fear that Somalis will take control of the town… I am not moving but unfortunately I only get 40 litres [of milk] unlike in the past when I used to sell 200 litres to Nairobi every day.”
The violence has displaced at least 500 Turkana families from Isiolo town. They are now seeking refuge in Isiolo’s Ngaremara Location and in neighbouring Laikipia and Samburu districts, Ekwam Terru, a local Turkana leader, told IRIN.
"We have lost a lot. [Most] of our people are camping at a church in Ngaremara. Almost a thousand have moved to Samburu and Laikipia; they include school children." He said at least 5,000 ethnic Turkana had been displaced and more than 122 of their houses torched.
A Ngaremara livestock trader said he is no longer able to access the Isiolo livestock market: "I have nothing now. My house was burnt. I have abandoned my farm. My kids are out of school.”
“We are in a worse condition and more desperate than Somalis [in Somalia] who have been fighting for over two decades,” said the trader.
According to upper eastern regional commissioner Isaiah Nakoru, the government has deployed security officers in the area and appealed to residents to help end the conflict, which has left dozens dead and displaced thousands since late 2011.