Kenyan herders flee as cattle die

2011-07-21 12:29

Wajir - Abdi Seikh Musa was once a flourishing livestock herder, but now, as extreme drought grips the Horn of Africa, his animals are dying as the people of northern Kenya struggle for survival.

"I used to have 200 goats, but now only 40," said Musa, who comes from the dusty village of Elaada, in the sun-baked lands close to Kenya's border with Somalia. "It's very bad," the elderly man added sadly.

Some 12 million people are battling hunger in the region's worst drought in 60 years, and on Wednesday the UN officially declared famine in two southern Somalia regions.

Over 78 000 Somalis have fled to seek refuge in neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya in the last two months.

Many have streamed into Kenya's overcrowded camps, now hosting some 380 000 people - more than four times the original capacity.

But the people in northern Kenya are also suffering, as the pastoralist communities who live from livestock herding watch helplessly as their animals die, forcing many to abandon their homes and move southward.

The carcasses of dead animals litter the side of the sandy road, their flesh baked so dry in the sun that vultures do not bother to pick at the meat.

"That's what happened to our animals," Musa said, waving at the shrunken remains of cows.

Intensifying demands

"Before the disaster, we could sell a cow, and that would pay for school uniforms for our children and other family needs," he added.

"But today, we depend entirely on the help of others."

The UN food agency is distributing food in the region, but officials say they are struggling to meet the intensifying demands.

"The needs are immense," said Benjamin Makokha, a local official with the World Food Programme. "Everyday the situation grows worse."

The few animals that have survived are walking skeletons, herders said.

"I used to have over 150 cows but now have only four left," said Mahmud Abdi, an 80-year old cattlekeeper.

"And for those four cows left, they are only cattle because they have their horns - they are now just moving carcasses," he said.

Even wild animals have suffered, with herders saying that the rotting bodies of giraffes and hyenas have been seen in the bush.

Many people have, therefore, fled the region, moving more than 100km southward to Harakhokthot in search of water and grazing to keep their animals alive.

There, goats, sheep and camels drink in a pond, as the herders sit idly nearby.

Wild jackals also watch the animals, waiting for a chance to grab those too sick to run.

"Farmers have gathered here from the surrounding areas, but many of the animals were lost on the way," said Omar Abdirahaman, the village headman.


"Our animals are dying, and if it continues, we may follow," he added.

The herders say the future looks ominous.

"There is no market, no more jobs, no way to earn money - people here have nothing to do," added Abdirahaman, also a local government official.

But while people are moving in search of help, some 60km further south down the dusty track at the small village of Dilmanyaley, the situation is no better.

The monotony of the flatlands are broken only by dry and stunted trees.

The skin is stretched tight over the bones of cattle carcasses, half hidden in the sand.

For many in this vast and arid region, the rains are a distant memory.

"My younger students have never seen drops of water fall from the sky since they were born," said Adan Mohamed, headmaster at the school in the village of Lokulta.

"I'm sure that when it rains, many will cry."

Read more on:    kenya  |  east africa hunger  |  east africa  |  africa drought

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