Parts of northeastern Kenya, which are experiencing an early drought after poor March-May long rains, have seen deadly clashes over water and pasture, say officials.
Migrant pastoralists from parts of the northeast and subsistence farmers in the neighbouring eastern and coastal regions of Meru, Kitui and Lamu have clashed, with several deaths reported in Meru and Kitui after the destruction of crops there by large herds of migrating livestock.
“We should be assisted rather than being harassed. Two herders from Garissa were killed when they moved to Kitui. They were attacked with arrows and they in turn shot and killed three farmers," said Hussein Futi, a local leader from the Ijara area in Garissa.
The government, he said, should facilitate peace meetings and use elders to negotiate with communities in areas where pastoralists are migrating.
Tension also remains high in the Isiolo-Wajir border region (central-northeastern Kenya) after the community in Isiolo’s Sericho area mobilized youths to repulse a group of migrant pastoralists from Wajir last week. One herder was killed in the clashes.
Herders in areas close to the Somali border have also been forced to move due to insecurity.
"We have asked those families living close to the border areas to move… They must heed our advice or face the risk of starvation. It will be impossible and risky for us to make an assessment or offer relief in such areas," said an aid worker who preferred anonymity.
Cases of wildlife attacks have also been recorded, according to Bishar Maalim, a village elder in the Kanchara area of Wajir. "Two children were mauled by hungry hyenas here. People are fighting each other while wild animals are fighting us all.” The Kenya Wildlife Service confirmed the deaths.
Little food, water
"The situation is grim. Many households are currently struggling to survive. They have no food, no milk, and they cannot afford to buy food if it’s available due to the high prices," Omar Abdullahi Maalim, an official with the Wajir Education Welfare Organization, told IRIN .
"We are providing 64,000 litres of water to 800 families in Kanchara [Wajir South District] and a nearby village. We are getting more requests from neighbouring areas. It has been worse since late June," said Maalim.
“We only have one donor and the cost of water trucking is high. We tried to ask the community to help but it was shameful since they were the same people whom we offer relief food.”
He said cases of waterborne disease have been reported. “People need mobile health services now."
The migrations could also affect children’s education.
"We are determined to make sure learning is not disrupted, but I am sure education will be affected. Most of the parents rely on livestock to pay fees and feed their families. It’s a tricky situation,” said Ibrahim Mohamed, a Wajir South education official.
The Ministry of Education is trucking water to at least six schools there, at present.
The 2012 long rains were delayed by nearly a month and "were at a depressed volume, erratic, and unevenly distributed across the northern, northeastern and southeastern pastoral areas,” according to a Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) update.
“The season was shortened as the rains ended two to five weeks earlier than usual in late April and early May instead of late May to early June,” stated the update.
“Grazing resources such as water, pasture, and browse are rapidly declining, leading to an early increase in livestock trekking distances in June as opposed to August.”
In the northern region of Moyale, the situation is also difficult, according to Rashid Omar of local NGO Fight Against Hunger.
"Tension and suspicion is still rife; thousands of people are still displaced. They are scattered all over, some are in Ethiopia. They are unable to return; they have no homes as they were burnt. They cannot access their farms or produce food. The farmers are now relief food recipients,” he said, adding that recurrent conflict in the area is contributing to poverty and food insecurity.
Northern Kenya is yet to recover from a severe drought in 2011 which affected other parts of the Horn of Africa region and was described at the time as the driest period in the eastern Horn since 1995.
Meanwhile, sustainable solutions to recurrent drought are needed, say residents.
"We don't need relief food, drought will be there next year. What we need is to be empowered. Our people have enough livestock; they need hay, water and markets for their livestock but not free food," said Dagane Siyat, a local leader in Wajir.