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My dream Is valid: From drought and conflict to security and jobs

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Ibrahim Jarso Gollole

Mr. Ibrahim Jarso Gollole is the Natural Resource Management Advisor at Mercy Corps Kenya, working in 5 northern counties of Isiolo, Marsabit, Turkana, Wajir and Garissa in northern Kenya. He is a devoted community development professional with over 8 years’ progressive experience in community-based natural resources governance, participatory development planning, drought cycle management and pastoralists’ livelihoods development. He works with pastoralists’ communities and their county governments on community development planning and resilience building. E-mail: jgollole [at] mercycorps.org.

Dreams dashed by drought and conflict

Hajj Sar Goresa’s household is pastoral, and resides in Kinna, a rural part of Kenya’s Isiolo County. The household typically grazes cattle very close to their rural home. In a normal year, the family moves their livestock to within a radius of about 20-30 kms from the village. In fact, most villagers circle within this 20 to 30-kilometer radius. But the household is battling the effects of drought right now. It all changed last year.

Cattle grazing at Kinna Kanchoradhi Springs

Cattle grazing at Kinna Kanchoradhi Springs, Isiolo County, Kenya, in 2019 © Jarso Ibrahim Gollole

In a normal year, the long rains fall in March, April and May. But the rainfall in 2019 was not normal. It rained a lot less. The problem started earlier. The short rains of October to December 2018 were also below normal, in fact, minimal, and their distribution was also not good. Suddenly, the Kinna pastoralists faced the prospect of drought. Although the rains failed in some areas, some areas got more and had better pasture. As a result, some patchy woodland areas remained green even as the drought set in elsewhere. 

The definition of drought varies from community to community and from region to region. For some people, a drought is declared if the rains fail for one season. For the communities in this region, however, drought is defined as the failure of rains for two successive seasons. This is because the average household can survive if the rains fail once, but not for two seasons, depending on how you manage your own land. In this area, not only is the rangeland poorly managed, the amount of rain that falls is usually low. As a result, in any given year that is considered normal, pastoral households must roam within a radius of 20-30 kilometers from their homes to graze to sustain their livestock comfortably.

One such area that remained green even as the rains failed is the Sericho grazing area, an area on the southern side of the Ewaso Nyiro River Swamp. It is a healthy rangeland that received some rains. Sericho is still in Isiolo County, but further out, some 150 kilometers from where the pastoralists from Kinna live. This green patch is very close to Lagdera Sub-County that lies across the border in Garissa County that was also hit by drought.

When the rains failed, the herders from Kinna started moving towards Sericho, just as the herders from Lagdera were moving towards Isiolo. Approaching from both ends, the herders from Garissa and Isiolo Counties converged on this leafy “island” measuring around 5,000 square kilometers (50km in width and 100km length). Among the new grazers was Goresa’s household, who had travelled about 120 km from their home with two of his family members and three hired herders. With herders flocking in, vegetation and pasture dwindled. Furthermore, communities from other regions were streaming into this area, in spite of the drought because Isiolo Sub-County still had better March to April rains overall compared to other regions in this dry Northeast corner of Kenya, leaving the pastures in a relatively better state.

Herders from as far away as Wajir County, on Kenya’s northern border with Ethiopia, travelled over 150 km to get to these pastures. With all pastoral communities in that region now competing over the rapidly vanishing pasture, conflict was inevitable. Fearful for their lives, Goresa moved to a new area called Iresaboru. They kept their livestock there, but the crowding soon started. Both environments that they moved to are better than their grazing area back home. But they lived under constant fear for themselves and their livestock, as pastoralists from Wajir and Garissa edged closer. Conflict could break out any time.

150 kilometers to Ewaso Nyiro and back 

Movement of Goresa household following the 2018-2019 drought in Northeastern Kenya

Movement of Gresa household following drought

Goresa had started moving beyond their normal grazing area around early March 2019. They held their livestock in the Belgesh area for five to six months. When the condition became dire – the rain was failing, pasture was declining, many people and livestock were flocking into the area and the water was drying up – they made a most difficult decision; to move towards the Ewaso Nyiro river. 

The main river serving this region is the Ewaso Nyiro, which is located far from this community. The community’s closest access point to the river is about 30 to 40 kms away. This access point is a swamp that is shrinking due to climate change, making access ever harder. 

Still, the Ewaso has some pasture and water accumulates under the swamp. In the dry periods, pastoralists dig shallow wells to collect water for their livestock. Once watered, the livestock are herded back to the greener, elevated non-swampy areas. But the swamp area is drying and the sand-fly population is growing, adding disease in both livestock and people to the already difficult drought conditions. Swamps are not good for livestock, especially during drought, because the condition of the livestock worsens. They get weak. 

In the final days of the time they spent in Sericho Ward, in November 2019, the rains started coming, and pastures were starting to grow. The herdsmen from Kinna’s village were starting to move back slowly but were still about 150 km away from their homes. 

At the end of November when the rains started falling, I reported the increased impacts of disease, mainly Kalaazar (Leishmaniasis-disease caused by sand-fly bites) in humans and Blackquarter (severe bacterial disease of cattle) in livestock. Today, many families are worse off than when the drought started and the returning animals are weak. People who left with about 150 animals – mainly cattle – have about 75 left. Most are returning with between 50 to 60% of the herd they left with. It is still good news that most of the livestock survived the drought and is heading back. Goresa is happy that he survived the drought with 74 of the 120 head of cattle he moved with to Sericho.

The situation of Goresa’s household is a not unique. But the outcomes are very different because peoples’ circumstances vary a lot depending on the resources at the disposal of the household. Some people get remittances from their families. Some people have savings. Some people have other family members supporting them. People who are influential within the network base get their support there. But some people have no one. No one can give them the security they need. Some people even lost lives. So, there are different life circumstances, and stories. Goresa reported that one of the pastoral households they were migrating with lost over 200 sheep and goats and 6 people died due to incidences of conflict as they moved.

My work is to ensure the government systems available are responsive and work for the communities when drought sets in. We are working with the government to ensure its goal of ending drought emergencies by 2022 is achieved. 

The programme I work with deals with strengthening community capacities to cope and live with drought. We work on the premise that we can manage drought by understanding how it manifests as a hazard, how community groups become vulnerable to it and the capacities communities have to cope with it and bounce back when it is over. People have an inherent capacity within them to deal with drought if they understand it. They can work with it because it is a normal part of this environment. 

Leaving no one behind

In our practice, there is something called community managed disaster risk reduction approach, abbreviated as CMDRR. Using this CMDRR approach, we developed at ward level – lowest level of devolution in Kenya –  Shock-responsive and Risk-informed Development Plans. CMDRR and Market Systems Development Approaches are combined to design a participatory development model called Ward-based Development Planning model (WDP). The application of the WDP model to a community results in the formulation of development plans that build resilience in the face of recurrent and persistent shocks and stresses. In Kenya, WDP is a new system, and a work in progress. Fifteen Wards in 5 Counties of Northern Kenya (Isiolo, Marsabit, Wajir, Garissa and Turkana) are now implementing this model.

The Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction (CMDRR) Approach works in the following way. When applying, people come together from different villages. Drawing on their own experience and assessments, they identify the most common and recurrent shocks. Drought is usually the first to be identified. They describe how shocks manifest in their context and the threats they pose. Then they identify and characterize each shock and identify which community groups are more vulnerable than the others.  They identify their inherent capacities, analyze the disaster risks and develop contingency plans on how to prepare and respond to it.

For example, in the case of drought, we carry out different kinds of assessments. In Kenya, the Kenya Food Security Steering Group normally does Long and Short Rains Assessments. These clarify the impact of the short and long rains on the lives and livelihoods of communities in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs). At County level, these assessments are used to identify who is vulnerable, and their number. The Assessment Report generally recommends different interventions. This can vary. For example, they can be food or non-food interventions to help households to cope with the drought. We also identify who are better off that need not be targeted because they can cope on their own.  

The ward development plans built on the WDP model have a section on contingency response activities to drought. The Drought Contingency Plans both at Ward and County levels are developed in close coordination with National Drought Management Authority (NDMA). NDMA leads the county in developing the contingency response plans for drought. The County Contingency Response Plan guides the actions taken by all the actors supporting a response to drought. This includes interventions by the government and development partners. 

In addition, County Steering Group (CSG) meetings are held frequently. This is the forum that assesses, on an on-going basis, the highly vulnerable regions and areas that need interventions or other measures as a drought unfolds. Droughts normally unfold in stages. In Kenya, droughts are ranked in their increasing order of severity, from Normal, to Alert, Alarm, Emergency and Recovery, in that order. At the moment, we are in Normal stage. Each stage has specific and pre-defined interventions appropriate to it. These interventions are documented in the Contingency plans at different levels.

For instance, during the current Normal stage, an action may be directed to the local leaders. We advise them that the situation is not yet an emergency, but that we may be transitioning to the Alert stage. This helps them to begin preparations for interventions for the Alert stage, aimed mainly at strengthening the capacities of the most vulnerable people.

The local capacities include: initiating community assemblies to develop or strengthen grazing plans and patterns; deferring grazing in the areas closer to permanent water sources for use during drought; and splitting dry and milking herds. Milking herds are kept close to the settlements. Once a drought transitions to the Alarm phase, interventions may include strengthening households by giving direct assistance to pre-empt the possibility of a market collapse. 

At the Alarm stage, for example, people are required to destock by selling off their livestock. Failing to do so could lead to the loss of a household’s entire herd or livestock. But there is a related challenge. Those that get the livestock to the market, may still fail to fetch a good price for their animals. Under these circumstances, the appropriate measure may be to inject capital into the market to encourage buyers to purchase more. For example, livestock traders are given a subsidy to transport the livestock bought. This drives up the price of the livestock and induces the sale of cattle by the herders. This type of subsidy that improves the price of livestock in the event of a drought helps communities to purchase what is needed, be it fodder or medicine. In this way, herds can be sustained even under difficult conditions.

The establishment of the Intergovernmental Working Group (IWG) on Drought is welcome news. This new inter-governmental process has immense value addition to the immediate positive outcomes of saving lives, livestock, rangelands and livelihoods in case of drought. It will improve major drought driven insecurity in some of the world’s most fragile areas by strengthening policy actions and improving coordination during implementation.

The conflicts that arise among communities living across borders – but also within borders – as they compete, in times of drought, over few and shrinking pastures would be minimized. Also, the influx of communities from neighboring countries seeking to take advantage of the government services set aside for affected communities in Kenya, for instance, where drought responses are better, even if they are not perfect, would decrease. A collective approach to managing drought will make the plans we have far better than they are today. Everyone’s dreams are valid. Nobody should be left behind.

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