Feature: Kenyan pastoralists pushed to the margins amid biting drought

2021-10-25 13:55:48 GMT2021-10-25 21:55:48(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

NAIROBI, Oct. 25 (Xinhua) -- On the bank of a dry river bed where camels trudged along with ease, Mbirayon Sarge, a middle-aged mother of four, stood out amid tastefully decorated traditional regalia and hulking voice as she prayed for bountiful rains.

Sarge is among dozens of women from the nomadic Rendille community in the vast northern Kenyan county of Marsabit, who have been gathering at a makeshift shrine near the dry river to perform rituals to end a prolonged dry spell. Sarge's fighting spirit was on display as she defied scorching afternoon heat to belt a tune and make coordinated dance moves while facing upwards in the hope that the fervent request for the rains would be granted.

"We gathered here at the dry river bank to pray for the rains and it has been the routine in the last one month," Sarge told Xinhua during a recent interview at the makeshift shrine. Some of her peers trekked more than a dozen kilometres daily to congregate at the makeshift shrine and perform rituals to pave the way for torrential rainfall.

Her plight mirrors the dire situation herders in the vast, remote and arid northern Kenyan outposts are facing as an acute drought escalates hunger, malnutrition, forced migration and sporadic conflicts.

Langata Turuga, a life-long pastoralist and a once-proud owner of 100 goats, sat pensively on a concrete slab as he waited patiently for his turn to fetch water at a drying community well. The elderly pastoralist revealed that half of his herd of goats had already succumbed to the ravages of drought and disease, hence pushing him to the margins of survival.

"The loss of 50 goats during the current drought has been devastating. We are passionate nomads but are suffering due to biting droughts that have become frequent in recent times," said Turuga. The acute drought in his backyard has forced him to make lengthy day and night trips across treacherous terrains in search of water and pasture to cushion his remaining herd of goats from starvation.

"We rely on livestock to raise our children and pay their school fees but it has become impossible to fulfill those obligations as drought kills our cows and goats," said Turuga.

Seated on a traditional wooden stool outside her makeshift hut, Ntimiton Lelala cut a forlorn image as she massaged a white lamb whose mother had just succumbed to the drought. "We are losing one goat after another as scarcity of water and pasture becomes more severe. Sometimes we go to bed hungry since food is scarce," said Lelala.

She is among more than 2.1 million Kenyans living in more than a dozen arid and semi-arid counties including Marsabit who are currently affected by drought.

John Ougo, assistant director at National Drought Management Authority, Marsabit County Office, said that about 30 percent of its population, or 160,000 people, were food insecure amid failed rains. And over 80 percent of pasture land has been depleted amid biting drought, leading to forced migration and resource-based conflicts in some parts of the county.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta earlier last month declared drought, which is ravaging several parts of the country, a national disaster.

Kenya Red Cross Society said that 2.1 million Kenyans are currently facing high acute food insecurity, up from 1.4 million in February due to a worsening drought situation. According to the organization, the drought-affected counties have had no significant harvest, as most water points such as boreholes, wells and water pans have dried up, increasing distances that people travel looking for water for domestic and livestock use.

Kenya has allocated 2.4 billion shillings (about 21.6 million U.S. dollars) to cushion drought victims in October and November in 23 arid and semi-arid counties. Enditem