The challenge of the Turkana pastoralists of North-western Kenya.


Still recovering from a severe drought in 2009, Kenya faced in 2010 one of the worst droughts the Horn of Africa has experienced in 60 years, according to the International Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS Net). Two consecutive poor and erratic rainy seasons have severely affected crops yielding and livestock condition, worsening further the already uncertain food situation in the country and prompting the government to declare the drought a national disaster.


Although the causes of the crisis have been ascribed in large part to climate change and other meteorological phenomenons such as La Niña, the impacts of the drought have been exacerbated by soaring local food prices, conflicts among pastoral communities and a late response by international aid agencies. Food and emergency healthcare aid programs have been launched by local and international aid agencies but the response to the humanitarian crisis has been inadequate so far and the number of people in need of urgent assistance has risen to 3.5 million in July 2011, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates.


The Turkana district – in the North-western part of Kenya – is one of the areas experiencing the worst consequences of the drought. The nomadic Turkana tribes inhabiting the region are pastoralists relying extensively on livestock for their living. Since pastures have dried out and animals are dying from starvation and thirst, the desperate competition for resources has led to increased livestock theft, shootings and forced migration. Only a minority of the population can cope with the on-going crisis and find ways to survive hunger and thirst, mostly relocating in areas reached by food aid. As in countless other crisis like this, children and the elderly are paying the highest price for the drought.


As of 20 July 2011, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) declared that 11.3 million people are in need of assistance due to drought in the Horn of Africa. Famine has been officially declared in two regions of Southern Somalia: southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle. Famine is technically declared when more than 30% of children are acutely malnourished and more than 2 people per 10,000 die per day and people are not able to access food and other basic necessities. 


Francesco Zizola travelled through North and Central Turkana from 16 to 26 July 2011.


Text © Valentina Tordoni