Written by

May 31, 2018

Climate change is having an immense impact on communities across Africa, in particular in Kenya, where families are facing prolonged dry seasons and regularly failing rains. Slowly, the hot weather leads to food shortages and threatens the traditional way of life.

For pastoralists who rear animals such as goats and sheep, this poses the risk of losing all of their herds – the backbone of their livelihood and their standing in society. After two years of failed rains, 3.4 million Kenyans risk becoming destitute due to climate change induced drought.

To support these Kenya communities, we’re investing £2,000,000 in sustainable traditional livelihoods over the next three years. Working with pastoralist communities in northern Kenya, we’re integrating satellite technology, livestock insurance, dams and access to safe water to strengthen their resilience to droughts and prevent their herds from dying. Through this innovative approach, locals will be able to maintain their livelihoods, their dignity, and survive the ravaging effects of drought on the long term.

We spoke to Aliow Mohamed, East Africa Regional Disaster Preparedness Manager, who is running the project to find out more!

Hi Aliow! Drought is such a big issue. How does it impact families?

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)


What about building boreholes to provide clean water?

We’re building a borehole so locals will have enough safe water to drink. We’re also building a mega-dam to harvest rain water when there’s no other source of water. When completely full, it can be used by livestock and to water crops for seven months until the next lot of rainfall.

How does building a dam impact the local environment?

Boreholes and traditional shallow wells remain dry during drought as underground water levels have dropped drastically due to the changing climate pattern. A water dam will help address these challenges. It will be constructed in the rangeland, 15km from the nearest town/village and won’t affect local environment in any way whatsoever as it’ll be made of natural materials (mud).

You’ll be offering livestock insurance and vouchers for the dam but how will locals be able to afford these?

This community values livestock – it’s their prestige and ‘gold’. They’ll go miles to provide their livestock with water and forage. So to protect their livestock, they’ll club together as a community to gather funds and pay for the services. The cycle will continue until everyone benefits.

How does this create economic opportunities for locals?

The project will provide services, inject income through cash for work and help form cooperative groups to develop agri-businesses. Ultimately, the project will impact local economies through livestock insurance and resilience against drought stress and other effects of climate change.

This is such a unique approach! How did you think of it?

We aim to support people by protecting communities’ core traditional values. Islamic Relief staff have a wealth of experience living and working in rural communities in Kenya, meaning we can bring innovation to traditional ways of coping and living. In Kenya, herds are a source of wealth for both families and the national economy, so by harnessing modern technology and innovative methods, we can respond to climate change, maintain traditional herding systems and support families’ livelihoods and wellbeing all at the same time!


Caption: Through the use of satellite imagery, local farmers will be able to quickly and accurately locate water.


Thank you Aliow, I’m sure we’ll hear all about the project’s many successes soon!

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