Drought forces pastoralists to move from their villages in search of water and food. Men travel long distances with little knowledge of where to find water and pasture – with dire consequences.
Being away from their family for such long periods strains family relationships and families typically lose over 50% of their animals. Once a herd has depleted to that level, it takes a family on average seven years to recover. This regeneration is also hampered by yearly cyclical drought.
What dangers do women and girls face?
Women and girls are the most affected by drought. They travel for kilometres, climbing up hills and mountains in search of shrubs, dry leaves and water to try and sustain their weak animals. They’ll spend the better part of their day looking for water, as water points become congested and waiting times increase. Girls drop out of school, become exposed to abuse in isolated areas, stress and hunger, and in may even suffer miscarriages from carrying such heavy loads.
How do people normally cope?
People have a communal set-up. They share animals and other resources in times of crisis. Pastoralists then traditionally turn to herd-splitting, where most of the herd is taken across Ethiopia or Somalia in search of pastures and water. The smaller part then stays with the women. This only has a 20% chance of success though and in some cases, whole herds may die, leaving the community in dire poverty.
What are the negative impacts of these coping mechanisms?
Families are separated, divorce rates rise and livestock inevitably die. Sometimes, young girls are forcibly married to older men in the hope that they’ll at least have food and their family will have one less mouth to feed.
Caption: In drought affected communities across Kenya, women and girls often have to walk long distances to collect water.
Local families are trying to build resilience against the increasing effects of climate change but are traditional methods sufficient to help them survive?
No. With changing climate trends, traditional coping strategies such as migrating to Ethiopia or Somalia are ineffective. We must address the underlying causes of community vulnerability through technological means as well as considering social and environmental factors. By mapping forage and water sources through remote sensing technology for example, mass migration will be reduced.
So how can modern technology and innovative methods help protect traditional ways of life?
Satellite mapping of food and water sources will enable community members to become aware of their environment and reduced over-grazing and high concentrations of animals on grazing lands. Imaging through an NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) sent via mobile phones will allow locals to accurately find grass and water sources.
We’ll also be working with community members on the importance of insuring livestock against drought and introducing a scheme for herds. The livestock insurance premium will be paid in when herds are reduced by more than 20%, meaning families won’t need to sell weak animals, allowing them to recover more quickly.
Caption: Satellite imagery will enable local pastoralists to track safe water sources using their mobile phones – ingenious! (Source: NASA Worldview, 2018)