Pastoralists struggling to cope with climate change

Wednesday March 18 2020

Ms Yasmina Ahmed heads home after fetching water. She says she cannot more to an urban area because she cannot adjust to the life there. PHOTO| PAUL LETIWA


The stench from the pit is still strong, with bleached carcasses and bones bearing gruesome witness to the recent catastrophic drought. This is where the last of Mr Bulleh Abdullahi’s once thriving herds were dumped.

Families in Bor, about 50km from Wajir town, now live  in a riverside makeshift settlement tending a few camels and donkeys. Malaria is common in the area and frequently affects the children. And the nearest water source is more than five kilometres away. 

Like other pastoralists in North Eastern Kenya, most families in the area depend on livestock for survival. 

But due to the rapid  climate change, their pastoralist way of life, which has remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years, is under serious threat. 

“We spend our entire life moving, we have done this for centuries. It is our way of life. But we are losing our livelihoods, we didn’t settle here by choice,” says Mr Abdullahi, a father of five. The herders, bereft of the animals that represented their entire wealth, have set up these wattle-and-mud homes in the past year in order to be closer to boreholes, passing aid convoys and emergency water tankers. Their wandering days, at least for the immediate future, are over. 

Wherever you go in Wajir Bor, there are tales of huge livestock losses. In one roadside settlement, which now depends on selling milk from its few remaining animals to passing truckers, a resident said the families had lost more than 500 sheep and goats and 250 cattle in the past two months. Ms Yasmina Ahmed, who lives here with her two children, says they could not go to any of the area’s towns since they are not used  to urban life. It’s now raining in the region for the first time in more than a year, what some describe as the best “short rains” since 2015. The baked, arid landscape turned green – quite literally overnight – and the rain was obviously welcome. 


However, it also brought destruction to these pastoralis communities – they do not have animals that could take advantage of the  rich pasture. They have nothing to hope for, as one elder put it.

“The remaining livestock will need to regain strength and get pregnant again before they begin to produce milk, which will take until the end of the year at least,” said Mzee Abdullahi.

Restocking with animals and a return to some form of pastoralism is the future is what most want to see. But not even the old men like Yusuf Ibrahim can remember a drought as severe as the most recent one. The idea that increasingly unpredictable weather patterns will make such droughts more common is something the people here find difficult to understand. Wajir Bor has a school, a market,  some small shops and kiosks selling tea.


A few years ago, it did not exist, until people got attracted to it by  the promise of regular water from the rehabilitated water pan. With the influx of people since the drought, it is now home to about 400 households. The water pan and the infrastructure around it (watering troughs, sanitation facilities, water kiosk, pump and pump house) are maintained by the site committee and the Ward Climate Change Planning Committees supported by the Adaptation Consortium through the local partner, Arid Lands Development Focus (ALDEF), which has helped build and rehabilitate of a wide range of water projects in Wajir, with funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and UK’s Department for International Development.  

“The projects are identified and prioritised by the local communities as those that help them build their resilience to climate change,’ says Ms Mumina Bonaya who is  a programme officer with the Adaptation consortium, which provides technical support to counties in mainstreaming climate change into planning and budgeting.


Wajir is the first county in Kenya to establish a legal framework geared towards helping  communities tackle climate change. The others are Isiolo, Makueni, Kitui and Garissa, which are at different stages of establishing a similar legal framework that will see counties set up County Climate Change Fund (CCCF).

Wajir County Governor Mohamed Abdi Mahamud described in detail how the periods of rains have become increasing shorter, and the dry spells longer – changing the pattern of four seasons on which the pastoralist communities’ movements have always depended. 

There were always droughts, for which people prepared, he says. “But when you look at the severity, it has been getting more severe,” he asserts.The governor says his government, which launched the Wajir County Climate Change Fund”  a while ago, has set aside Sh80 million to help   communities adapt to climate change.  

“We already have the Wajir Climate Change Act 2016, which is anchored on the Kenya Climate Change Act 2016. Under this Act, the funds allocated are being used to fund climate projects, programmes and activities, and we are seeing an improvement in people’s livelihoods,” he explains. 

Aid workers in the area say that the situation of up to 80 per cent of Wajir County’s 407,000 inhabitants is critical, as they struggle to find food daily despite the rains.

Climate experts acknowledge that there is unlikely to be a return to the old pastoralist­­­­­­ way of life in the near future – if ever. Besides, there are real fears about what will happen when the food aid inevitably stops. 

However, most people maintain that the land in this semi-arid region can only support a pastoralist life. Ahmed Ibrahim, 70, stares into the pit of animal carcasses by the road. “I can live only with livestock,” he says. “Life is possible only with my livestock.

But with  the national and county governments working together with non-governmental organisations to  respond to the rapid climate change  resilience can be built and livelihoods improved, giving hope for the future.