Drought drives Turkana villagers into Kakuma refugee camp

Locals wait in turns to fetch water from scoop holes along the dry Tarach River bed in Kakuma, Turkana West sub-county in Turkana County. Water scarcity has led to constant conflicts between the locals and the refugees at the Kakuma refugee Camp.Tarach River is along the Kakuma refugee camp. PHOTO BY ELIUD KIPSANG 31/1/2017.

A clash is looming between thousands of refugees at Kakuma and their Turkana hosts over food and water.

Driven by the devastating drought that has swept the region for almost a year, more than 30,000 residents of Kakuma and over 200,000 refugees at Kakuma Refugee Camp have been competing for the last drops of water trickling from the camp's taps.

River Tarach, the residents' only water source, has since dried up, pushing them to join refugees in the camp in search of water.

According to Gatbel Gatwech, a Sudanese at Kakuma, the resulting competition for scarce water inside the camp is causing rising tensions between the refugees and the local community.

Gatwech said some taps inside the camp have dried up forcing refugees to wander to the villages in search of water.

"We are experiencing water problems in the camp. The water scarcity has forced us to dig shallow wells on dry riverbeds which we share with local community. We face the same water problems with local community. Sometimes we clash because everybody is fighting to get the commodity," he said.

The refugees and the residents now want the Government and donor agencies operating in the area to increase water and food relief supplies both within and outside the camp.

The refugees said they were willing to share with the locals the food aid which they receive from donor agencies, since the community has hosted them for decades, but the rations have been reduced.

Faced by a common enemy, perennial drought, the residents and refugees have developed a give-and-take relationship to survive the harsh terrain. But the sheer harshness and duration of the drought is putting these bonds to the test.

"We have no problem sharing the scarce resource with the local community whom we interact with and enjoy a cordial relationship. But we appeal to the agencies and the Government to avert the conflicts by providing an equal space where resources are shared without bias," said Dong Kweth.

The prolonged drought is now threatening the fabric of this relationship. According to Christine Akai, who lives near the refugee camp, some shallow wells dug on dry riverbeds have been contaminated by human waste, raising fears of a disease outbreak.