By , March 2, 2023 7:55 am
Photo: @UNICEF

Climate change is no longer a far-fetched myth. It effects is seen far and wide. Its ugly face and aftermath has lately dawn on the conservative pastoralist communities in the horn of Africa including the Borana Communities which are regarded as the 1st born of the wider Oromo networks.

A community once envied by many for their resilience in the face of calamities is now seemingly to have thrown in the towel after ravaging drought threatened their lives and livelihoods. Many have portend to the fact that the rise in temperature and sea level is just but a clear signs of this phenomena farther accelerated by global warming as result of intensified fossil fuel consumption across the globe.

Even though climate change is a global phenomenon, its impact is severely felt by Nomadic Pastoralist communities in the horn of Africa especially the Borana communities in Southern Ethiopia stretching to some part of Kenya.

This constant change in Climate is as result of both Natural and anthropogenic factors that has now collectively resulted into surges in temperature, long period of dryness and erratic rainfall patterns.

Last year report by UN OCHA indicated that over 36.1 million people have suffered the brunt of drought across the Horn of Africa with an estimated 24.1 million in Ethiopia, 7.8 million people in Somalia and about 4.2 million in Kenya. Subsequently, this figure must have increased or even doubled by now.

From the existing records, Occurrence of drought wasn’t a new phenomenal to Borana region since this cycle has been witnessed after every 6 or 7 years. However, the ongoing biting drought is unprecedented due to its severity, frequency, length and impacts in a scale never seen for the last four decades.

In comparison, many have rated the ongoing drought which is harshly ravaging the entire Borana region to be more deadly than the drought experienced in 1970’s and 1980’s which they atrociously reference to as (hoola midan diimo) the drought associated with distribution of yellow maize relief food, (hoola aaduun doot) the drought associated with lunar eclipse and (baar chiinn tiite guracha) the drought associated with locust invasion.

In the recent years, Pastoralist has faced many shocks such as conflicts, COVID 19 Pandemic, locust invasion and drought; however the most challenging and the devastating shock for them still remain the prolong drought that has affected millions of lives.

Drought is generally a situation where there has not been enough rainfall over an extended period of time, usually for a season or more, leading to water shortages and producing a serious hydrologic imbalance.

Generally, borana region used to receive rainfall in a bimodal pattern in which the (Ganna) the long rain is expected between March and May and (the Hagayya) short rain is between the month of October and December. Any rainfall outside this pattern is regarded as bonus and unexpected gift from the creator and referred to us (Furmatta) in local dialect.

The current devastating drought is as results of rain failing for the three consecutive years leading to critical shortfall in pasture and water thus emaciation of pastoralist livestock and their enmass death. Even the few remaining are in bad shape with visibly countable ribs and bones – the skinny cows that butt their heads lifelessly against their knees are the common scenario one encounters as you make journey around most of the pastoralist settlements.

In the good old days, borana pastoralist use to occupy and freely wades with their livestock  from place to places in search for water and pasture mainly within the larger circumference of Savannah region of southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya which mainly covers Marsabit and Isiolo Counties extending all the way toward coastal stripes of Tana River county.

In drought years, livestock losses and rangeland degradation are mitigated by extensive migration of animals which today is no longer holding due to land demarcation and the devastating effects of climate change.

Pastoralist world over depends on their livestock and their products for their livelihood. However, the Current persistency of drought has drastically reduced animal numbers and productivity thereby creating food shortfall for most of pastoralist households thus forcing them to rely on relief food – a new culture which was an alien and repugnant to them in the past.

The ongoing drought which has caused untold suffering to borana communities and other neighboring pastoralist is as result of the 5th failed rain seasons that have resulted into unbearable shocks and stresses leading to deterioration of pastoralist communities’ resilience capacities in more ways than one.

The effects of this drought will run deeper and may be for years since it has disrupted pastoralist ways of lives wholesomely from both socio-economic fronts. A published source indicated that 80% of pastoralist communities’ livestock in the Horn of Africa is already swept and the remaining few too are just glaring to their deaths which will seemingly come calling any time soon.

For the above reasons, complete recovery from these shocks and stress may take longer time than anticipated due to decimated number of livestock, disrupted pastoralist livelihoods and plummeted human living standards. The usual short term mitigation strategies such as supplementary feedings may just bore less or little fruits unless long term plan of addressing this recurring drought is revised in order to improve pastoralist communities’ resilience.

A long term remedy strategies should employ, first, the studying of these shocks in order to get proper understanding in terms of its frequency, its magnitudes and later conceptualizing the effective concept of community resilience for a long time solution to be fronted. 

Both multi-pronged and context specific resilience measures is a must do strategies in arresting this ugly situation and strengthening communities resilience level so as to achieve sustainable solution. 

Early warning blended with constant advice to herders further anchored on destocking policies aimed at reduction of herd’s size for ease of management. 

Harnessing pastoralist astrological knowledge so as to stay abreast with changing rainfall patterns for the purpose of forecasting and preparedness for any impending shocks and stresses should also be part of mitigation strategies. 

Finally, scouting and locating potential sites of water for emergency and adoption of proper rangeland management system is also of importance.

The ongoing call for humanitarian action among all Oroma communities toward saving the lives of Borana is a well-thought brotherly bond which should be cultivated and nurtured by all.

Diba Kosi Bilinga
Bilinga Is Information Scientist and Gender Advocate from the Northern Part of Kenya