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Kenyan's unusual migration to Somalia

Monday June 29 2009

Women wait for their turn to fetch water at Welmerer Borehole in Jarajilla division, Fafi district. Severe drought has forced herders in northern Kenya to cross the border into Somalia in search of pasture and water. Photo/SAMMY CHEBOI

Women wait for their turn to fetch water at Welmerer Borehole in Jarajilla division, Fafi district. Severe drought has forced herders in northern Kenya to cross the border into Somalia in search of pasture and water. Photo/SAMMY CHEBOI 

Hundreds of herders in North Eastern province are crossing the Somali border in search of water and pasture for their livestock, even as the security situation in the war-torn country worsens.

The unusual migration to Somalia is coming at a time when escalating violence is forcing hundreds of Somalis to flee their country and seek refuge in Kenya.

And this development could derail this year’s national population census as herders are expected to remain in the insecurity-plagued country for months.

The herders, who have been watching their herd succumb to death as the drought bites, have embarked on the exodus to the unlikely destination: Somalia. And they are unlikely to return to the country before August when the Kenya 2009 Population and Housing Census is to be conducted.

Speaking to Nation, Dadaab district officer Evans Kyule expressed concern that the tide of pastoralist migration in the northern parts of the country is unlikely to end soon as drought persists.

“Herders are moving with their livestock into Somalia. The census might be conducted before they are back,” Mr Kyule said, adding that unless it rains before then, herders were unlikely to return.

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At Alikune village in Lagdera District, only women and children remain as men have deserted the area in search of pasture. The movement to Somalia continues despite rising insecurity threats posed by the Al-Shabaab militia fighting to topple President Sheikh Shariff’s Transitional Federal Government.

But the lure of available pasture and water is pushing Kenyan pastoralists from the northern districts of Fafi, Lagdera, Ijara, among others to risk their lives rather than watch as their livestock die.

“They have no choice but to cross the border. Pasture is available on the Somalia side,” explained Yasin Farah, a drought management officer based at Garissa.

The Somali militants have threatened to attack Kenya if the military patrols on the common border are not halted. Prime Minister Raila Odinga has called for military action against the militants to secure the country and the region.

As evidence of the plenty pasture in Somalia, flood water have swept across Fafi plains, enticing residents to relocate to the lawless country.

Worst affected divisions of Dadaab and Jarajilla in Lagdera and Fafi districts, respectively, has seen boreholes dry up and the few remaining are strained as huge number of people and animals flock them. One such borehole is Welmerer in Jarajilla where people have to queue for days for their turn to draw water.

“The drought is devastating and unfortunately it could get worse. Remains are expected around September and October, by which time census will have been concluded,” said Mr Kyule.

The situation is likely to disadvantage pastoralist communities considering the significance attached to the census.

Already, independent monitors are expected to take part in the national exercise to prevent cases of rigging.