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“Some of the remaining livestock die while on transit to Garissa” Tales from pastoralists striving to beat the worst drought in decades



By: Beth Nyaga

Kenya’s worst drought in four decades has had devastating effects on animals and habitats. In Northern Kenya, the situation is worrying to locals and dangerous to livestock.

Most parts are on the brink of famine. Residents are helpless as their animals drop dead each day. People are dangerously hungry and in need of humanitarian assistance.

A multitude of cattle is transported for hundreds of kilometres in search of water. Yet more than three-quarters of them die during the journey leaving the owners with no option but to toss them out into the open. The situation is acutely distressing as I found out during my recent visit to Garissa County.

As we traversed the County, I could see tons of dead animal bodies in most parts.

I meet a family that had travelled all the way from Eldas in Wajir County, over 430 kilometres apart, hoping the situation would be different. But they soon realized the grass was not always greener on the other side.

Jamila Hillo has sadness written all over her face as she narrates what her family has gone through ever since they embarked on the 72-hour journey to Garissa.

Hillo says she alongside her husband, Noor Maalim, made a decision to leave their home to pursue a chance at surviving the drought when it became clear they will not withstand its consequences.

Tough journey

At this point, Hillo and her family joined forces with three other families to hire a truck at a cost of Ksh 70,000 in order to transport them and their livestock to Garissa.

Unsurprisingly and perhaps a common practice in this part of the world, people and their animals are bundled into the back of the trucks which are only available occasionally. Such was the magnitude of the challenge Hillo and her family had to endure to reach Garissa. Along the way, the mother of 10 says some of her animals could not survive the long journey and died.

“We initially had 30 cows and 100 goats, of these, only one cow and 15 goats made it to Garissa, the loss is very painful, but we finally made it here,” she says.

She says even though her family was lucky to get to Garissa in one piece, they all now have nothing to eat or drink. Amid the scorching heat, they have no other clothes with them to change and nowhere to run to as a shelter.

Hillo and her family now join hundreds of other families who are squatting on community land as they wait on the tide to turn.

Speaking on the situation at the camp, Edow Abikr, the chairman of the community says that at this point, people are not even worried about their economic loss as a result of dying livestock.

“We are only worried about our lives now because it is either death or death if nothing changes soon. The economic loss at this point is irrelevant,” he said

Pointing at a visibly under-the-weather donkey, Abikr says that it was the only one left and even it, looking at her condition cannot carry an ounce of water.

“The donkey got hurt during the journey as it was trampled on in the truck, luckily it made it to see Garissa but it is now facing death. Now people are forced to walk for kilometres to get water using borrowed jerry cans and have to return them after use. 20 litres of water costs Ksh 20,” he says.

Abikar also notes that the vulnerable groups that include pregnant women and children are suffering the most because they need proper nutrition but the situation is according to them none.

Ahmed Warsame, who is a local in Garissa has now taken it upon himself to help families like Hillo’s that keep arriving in the town.

Warsame in his efforts to mobilise support for the families in need at the camp is forced to go around the town asking for assistance and he admits this is a hard task.

“This human nature has forced me to transport some of the members of the growing community at the camp to speak for themselves and say what they are going through in order for them to get the assistance they need.”

He says the families putting up in community land have received some aid, but quickly pointed out this is hardly enough to feed half of the families there.

“The numbers keep growing by the day; they need help from the government as well as Non-Governmental Organizations dealing with humanitarian issues,” he said.


Dr Yussuf Wato, Manager of Biodiversity, Research and Innovation, World Wide Fund for Nature – Kenya on his part says that the impact of drought has reached a crisis level.

“Our immediate response is to save lives: that of wildlife, the people who remain the custodians of this wildlife and their livestock. Science does not lie, all data points at a grim future, it is time we move from cyclic emergency responses to long-term appropriate climate adaptation and resilience measures. Our generation can make it happen” Dr Wato states.

According to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), the drought situation remains critical in 22 of the 23 ASAL counties due to four previous consecutive failed rainfall seasons.

Currently, nine arid and semi-arid (ASAL) counties namely; Kilifi, Mandera, Marsabit, Samburu, Turkana, Wajir, Isiolo, Kitui and Kajiado are in the Alarm drought phase while 13 counties are in the Alert drought phase. These include Garissa, Lamu, Narok, Tana River, Makueni, Tharaka Nithi, Baringo, Laikipia, Meru, Taita Taveta, West Pokot, Nyeri and Kwale. Only Embu county is currently classified in the Normal drought phase.

Taita Taveta, Kwale, Garissa and Tana River improved from Alarm to Alert phase due to light showers received during the last week of December


Horizon Analysts and Researchers Network (HARN) has called on President William Ruto to declare the drought a national disaster.

“According to the latest data, a staggering 4.5 million people in arid and semi-arid areas are facing acute food insecurity and a significant increase in malnutrition rate,” stated Jimale, the Executive Director of HARN.

He added that: “All the indicators are showing that the situation in pastoral counties is really worsening and there is a need for a serious intervention, at whatever cost.”

High rates of children at risk of malnutrition were noted in Marsabit, Mandera, Garissa, Baringo and Isiolo counties.

This is mostly attributed to the continued decrease in milk production and consumption at the household level, as well as poor dietary diversity, poor child-feeding practices, and reduced food intake at the household level.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of East African Community (EAC), Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) and Regional Development Rebecca Miano says more than 89 development partners and non-state actors are involved in drought response in the affected counties.

“As of December 2022, the agencies had mobilised about Ksh 44.7 billion for drought response, flash appeals included,” she said.

In addition, she says that the private sector-led National Steering Committee on Drought Response established by President William Ruto in November last year has mobilised more than Ksh 600 million.

In December, the Steering Committee distributed food hampers to 14,300 food insecure households in Kilifi, Kitui, Samburu, Marsabit and Meru counties under the Wakenya Tulindane initiative, targeting 2,860 households in the worst affected sub-counties,” she says.

Between July and October 2022, the government disbursed Ksh 1.07 billion as regular cash transfers to households in Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera and Wajir counties under the Hunger Safety Net Programme implemented by NDMA.

During the same period, an additional Ksh 409 million was disbursed as scale-up cash transfers in response to drought in Marsabit, Mandera and Wajir counties.

[This article previously appeared on KBC]


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