At 60, Nunei Harun has been reduced to a life of begging. She has recently moved into a temporary settlement on the dusty fringes of Dela village, 80km northwest of Wajir town in the arid lands of north eastern Kenya. Here, she joins about 50 other families with little means of income. Her home is now a tiny dome-shaped hut made of sticks, pieces of plastic, finished with light colourful shawls that Somali women wrap around their heads.
Nunei did not always live like this. “Five years ago, I owned over 300 animals,” she says, “but they have all died due to drought and disease.” Nunei’s woes began with the 2005/ 2006 drought, when she lost more than half of her animals. At the beginning of this year, she had 100 animals, but following the most recent drought, only five cows and four goats are left.
Now Nunei earns a little money collecting and selling gums and resins scraped from the barks of trees. A kilo of the resins fetches her Ksh30. It is hard work, and on a good day, she collects two kilos. On a bad day she has to beg or hope that aid agencies will provide her with food.
Nunei’s husband left for Wajir town to seek help from relatives. He is 80 years old and frail. “I now live alone,” she says, adding that she does not know where any of her 11 children are. “They all became herders and I do not know where they could be grazing. I don’t even know whether they are alive.”
“All I know is that I have never had to beg for food, my animals have always been my livelihood.” Nunei prays that someone will help her to restock so that she can go back to herding, the one thing she knows best.
Dela village is one of the distribution centres for water and relief food. Nunei relocated here for these two reasons. “The water points all dried up and there was little vegetation for animals to feed on. I knew I had to leave the ‘bush’.”
A water pan has been built at Dela with funding from the European Commission; it is the only source of water for this village. During the dry season, the Commission also supplied Dela and other locations in Wajir with water using tankers.
Yves Horent is the Head of the Kenya office at the European Commission Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO). “Drought is one of the factors forcing people to abandon their traditional ways of life.” He adds that: “In northern Kenya, and in most of the Horn of Africa, droughts are becoming more frequent and the people have less and less ability to cope with any stress on their source of livelihood.”
The short rains have now begun, and there is plenty of water, but this community is not out of danger yet. Food is still not readily available, and prices are extremely high.
Kassim Abdi, a shopkeeper at Dela, says a kilo of maize flour is selling at Ksh60, which is out of reach for the local population. The prices are expected to increase with the continuing rains. “If the rains are heavy, the roads will become impassable and the cost of transport will go up. This will further increase the prices of commodities,” says Kassim.
At the Wajir town livestock market, a mature male goat is now selling at Ksh2,000, which is way below the optimal price of Ksh5,000. The traders are optimistic that the rains will help improve the prices. At the height of the drought this year, a mature goat sold at Ksh1,200, greatly eroding the pastoralist economy.
With the unpredictable weather patterns, the livestock keepers in and around Wajir town are very keen to dispose off animals when there is little feed. They sell the animals at the onset of the dry season and keep the money to buy again when the weather is favourable.
The same cannot be said of Nunei Harun and other pastoralists in the interior of Wajir district. Recurrent droughts are forcing them out of the ‘bush’ and into town centres, making them very visible victims of the successive and unforgiving droughts.
REPORTS BY MARTIN KARIMI, European Commission Humanitarian Aid department