Overuse of river's water a threat to pastoralists

When my son was born, my father-in-law gave him a female camel calf. This is in line with Somali tradition where 'waxad' or gift is given to newborns (boys).

The purpose is two-fold; one to start growth of the child's own herd. Two, it is meant to see if the child has 'farhad' (luck) or is 'bacow' (unlucky) depending on whether the female calf grows into adulthood and produces more camels for him.

Failure of the calf to grow and produce more camels implies the boy is unlucky and, traditionally, carries stigma for the boy and determines a host of issues for his future.

These are old customs and are less practiced today. But gifting newborns with a calf is still common and symbolises why pastoralists passionately cherish livestock. This passion is what causes conflict.

The Ewaso Ng'iro River and particularly in the pasture rich Kom in Isiolo County is what can be called a melting pot for pastoralists from five different counties.

A boy who received his first camel when he was born is willing to fight during his adulthood to safeguard his wealth, especially when there is a threat from cattle rustlers.

Around this time of the year, two issues are of grave concern to the nomadic communities surrounding Isiolo County which depend on Ewaso Ng'iro River for their livelihood.

Circumcision season

The drought has reached an alarming level and fears of the animals emaciating to death due to pasture depletion is very high.

As this is the circumcision season in Samburu, other pastoralists grazing along Ewaso Ng'iro River need to take extra precaution against the high probability of cattle rustling.

During the circumcision period, morans are more likely to raid livestock for purposes of paying bride prizes and increasing their herds to safeguard against the drought.

Currently, cattle rustling has also become commercialised because a significant portion of livestock stolen is likely to end up in the markets.

Northern parts of Kenya are some of the aridest and water-scarce regions in the country. Several rivers and a countless number of tributaries meander through this vast and dry region of Kenya.

Most parts of these ASAL counties have low resilience to external shocks due to recurring drought and depletion of the rangelands.

Ewaso Ng'iro River, with originates in the Aberdares ranges, runs through several counties before emptying its waters in the Lorian Swamp to the south of Wajir County.

The paradox of communities that are dependent on the water and grazing of their livestock on the Ewaso Ng'iro basin is that during rainy seasons the river breaks its banks and the floods disrupt livelihoods.

Few pockets

During the dry season like this time of the year, the few pockets of water reservoirs and shallow wells attract a large number of livestock herders and conflict.

A consortium of organisations from Isiolo, Samburu and Marsabit have taken the responsibility of highlighting the risk factors for pastoralists communities that depend on the river.

Increasingly, companies have been diverting water from the tributaries that feed into the Ewaso Ng'iro.

The organisations will embark on a four-day treacherous walking journey through the dry and hot arid regions, with a caravan of camels meandering along the river and converging at Archers Post.

The camel caravan has two main objectives. One is to raise awareness on the continued threat to the ecosystem along the Ewaso Ng'iro.

Secondly, the organisers want to highlight the plight of the communities that depend on water from the river, particularly those in the downstream.

The future of this crucial source of water for thousands of people is under threat from the likelihood of over-dependence on the river by some of the Vision 2030 flagship projects.

Once the Lapsset project and the resort city is completed, the population of the area around Ewaso Ng'iro is expected to shoot up beyond two million people.

This has a potential to significantly damage the flora and fauna of the region and put the future of the pastoralists in jeopardy.