More than 8 million people require food aid; 10,000 nomads forced to flee

Kenya/Somalia: Climate change exacerbates drought and conflicts in East Africa

Tens of thousands of nomads in East Africa are fleeing a catastrophic drought. The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) reported on Friday that in the past few days alone, more than 10,000 nomads fled from northern Kenya to neighboring Uganda. In Somalia the numbers of nomads fleeing the devastating consequences of the drought exceed those fleeing the civil war. "A huge exodus of East African nomads looms," warned the head of the Africa section at the STP, Ulrich Delius, in Göttingen. "More than eight million people in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan urgently need food aid because the rains have failed. In northern Kenya the drought could worsen conflicts between ethnic communities fighting over grazing land and access to wells."

According to the STP more than 4000 nomads fled in March 2011 in the face of escalating armed conflicts between impoverished nomad groups in the regions hardest hit by drought in Kenya. Roughly 1,200 of them are women and children, forced to flee on 17 March during a fight between Samburu and Pokot nomads over pasture land south of Lake Turkana in the northwestern part of the country. Roughly 2,800 refugees come from the Tana River District in the middle of the country, where fighting broke out on 5 March with nomads who had come from northeastern Kenya searching for grazing land. The Kenyan police used violence in disarming the combatants. Eyewitnesses reported that during this action, police officers raped at least three women and prevented people with injuries from receiving medical attention. For many years Kenyan nomads have complained of the disproportionate levels of violence used by security forces when disarming nomads.

In Somalia at least 52,000 people have been forced to leave their settlements since December 2010 due to the effects of the drought. Many seek asylum in neighboring Kenya, but increasingly are being turned back at the border. Kenyan authorities are struggling to deal with the catastrophic effects of the drought in their own country. Kenya's meat market has collapsed, as more and more nomads in distress are having their cattle slaughtered. Now the Kenyan state is subsidizing the purchase of the starving animals to ensure at least a subsistence income for the nomads. Kenyan members of parliament from the northern regions hardest hit by the catastrophe are calling for a state of emergency to be declared in their provinces.

Due to the effects of climate change, the intervals between droughts in northern Kenya are growing shorter. In the 1970s there were around 10 years between droughts, and by the 80s this had already shortened to 5 years. Today, droughts are recorded every two to three years. In 2009 roughly 80 percent of Maasai livestock were destroyed.