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We're born tough, but the going getting too tough'

BUSINESS
By | December 27th 2010

By BONIFACE ONGERI

Residents of North Eastern Province (NEP) spent the Christmas weekend scanning the clear blue skies, as they have done for months, looking for signs of rain. From Ashadiinlago in Garissa to Makaror in Wajir and Lafey in Mandera, villagers sniffing the tinder dry air for the scent of moisture, has become something of an obsession.

"We did not enjoy the rains experienced in other parts of the country," says Hassan Abdi, a 56-year-old herdsman in Nuno, Garissa District.

"If only it could pour for three days, things would be different. I am not sure what the coming months hold for us and our livestock," Abdi says, shaking his head in consternation.

The sight of children begging for water from motorists is all-too-common in NEP. Most people trek for kilometres to the nearest water point for humans and animals. [PHOTOS: Boniface Ongeri/STANDARD]

The last showers of rain were last reported there in April, transforming the parched province into verdant, lush green beauty. But soon after, the searing temperatures associated with NEP, resumed in May.

The anticipated short rains that come between October and December failed, and sparking panic over the fate of the animals that provide livelihoods for the largely pastoralist community.

"The distance between grazing fields and watering points has been widening every day," laments herdsman, Abdullahi Adow, also from Nuno village.

"We are born to be tough, but it is becoming tougher to endure the debilitating effects of the heat every year," the 52-year-old man adds.

The Garissa Arid Lands Resource Management Programme Co-ordinator Yassin Farah says residents were treading dangerously between survival and death.

ACUTE SCARCITY

"The long rains in April were not adequate and the short rains completely failed. Water pans are drying up, resulting in acute scarcity of water in most parts of Garissa," Yassin explains.

"The available pasture is getting depleted fast and the livestock are concentrated around boreholes", he told The Standard.

The areas affected by water scarcity include Ohio, Abdigab, Shidle, Nuno, Ashadiinlago, Alango Arba, Afwein, Tog Dub, Dihle, Jilango, Diiso, Fafajiin in Garissa, Lagdera and Fafi Districts.

With the next rains expected at the end of March or early April, the situation can only get worse, before it gets better. Several aid agencies, including the Kenya Red Cross Society, say that more than 200,000 people would need food aid until the next rains.

Local leaders are sounding warning bells over the impending disaster, and appealed for assistance to check hunger-related deaths.

Last week Burder Ward Councilor Ibrahim Abukar reported that a girl had died from thirst in Machesa Wajir South Constituency, although this was not independently confirmed.

Upper North Eastern Province Regional Commissioner Isaiah Nakoru said their officers are on a high alert, ready to deal with the unfolding catastrophe.

ENVIRONMENTAL HARDSHIP

"The number of those on food assistance list will be reviewed upwards because the situation on the ground is not good," Nakoru confirmed.

"The people receiving food aid now are 101,600 and the number in need is about 125,000," said Yassin, adding that the number could increase should the situation deteriorate."

The situation is not any better in Mandera County, where temperatures oscillate between 30 and 40 degrees Celsius. Midday is characterised by destructive gales, exacerbating the environmental hardship the locals have to put up with. The scorching sun and drought has scorched the vegetation dry.

In the expansive semi-desert plains live a people resigned to a hardy lifestyle, but produce more than 80 per cent of the meat consumed in Kenya.

Children have started flocking local health facilities suffering from malnourishment. Scenes of children incessantly bugging their mothers for food are a common feature.

"We have malnourished children who require nutritional supplement. We are worried for our children," said Halima Ada from Mandera township.

From Alinjugur in Garissa, to Makaror in Wajir and Lafey in Mandera, residents are in dire need of relief assistance.

Hungry and thirsty children are seen flagging down motorists to beg for water. Cattle and camels that provide milk have been driven away from Wajir to neighbouring Isiolo County, where water and pasture are reportedly overstretched and it is feared that scramble over the resources could trigger clashes.

"When you see goats, sheep and cattle, they lack the strength to walk or low, a sign that the situation is dire," another herdsman told The Standard.

Some villages have been deserted, with occupants migrating in search of pasture and water.

The local livestock markets are now an exhibition of bony animals whose prices have dropped by 25 percent due to the animals’ poor health.

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