Insecurity Heightens Poverty in Northwest Kenya
Photo: Ann Weru/IRIN
|Residents often have to rely on police reservists and have organised local security to safeguard their livestock|
LODWAR, 29 July 2008 (IRIN) – John Lochimoe used to own several heads of cattle that his grandfather left him, until raiders from the neighbouring Pokot District of northwestern Kenya took the animals.
“All the cows my grandfather left me have been stolen, driving me deeper into poverty,” he said. Today, Lochimoe, a single parent of two, who also cares for his mother and mother-in-law, can hardly cope thanks to the insecurity that has robbed him of his livelihood.
“At night the dogs bark all the time and people are always on the look-out. It seems as if the peace and reconciliation efforts do not work,” Lochimoe, a former teacher living in Oropoi village, Turkana North District, said.
Like Oropoi, many areas of the mainly arid northern Kenya experience resource-based conflicts, livestock theft and a lack of access to infrastructure such as roads, schools, communication and health facilities.
The situation has particularly affected the pastoralist communities that dominate the region. The major causes of conflict include cattle-rustling, proliferation of illicit arms, inadequate policing, and competition over control and access to natural resources, according to a report by the NGO Practical Action Eastern Africa report. The NGO implements peace programmes in northern Kenya.
“The pastoralists cannot access water and pasture because of the insecurity,” Turkana Central District Commissioner George Ayonga said. Residents rely on seasonal rivers and water pans, and rising fuel costs have also reduced access to motorised water schemes.
The insecurity, he added, had caused population displacement, especially in areas such as Lokori and Lomelo, south of the main town of Lodwar.
To cope, residents often have to rely on police reservists and have organised local security to safeguard their livestock. Boys, some as young as 14, carry guns while herding livestock.
According to a drought bulletin for Turkana, June was particularly bad for conflicts in all cross-border zones of Turkana North, Central and South districts.
The problem was attributed to resource-based battles after the failure of the long rains. The region borders Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and the areas of Baringo, Marsabit, Samburu and West Pokot in Kenya.
The bulletin recommended strengthening early warning and rapid response systems, in addition to holding peace meetings and encouraging dialogue.
According to Sarah Wanaswa of the Oropoi dispensary, many cases of assault and gunshot wounds were reported during the months of peak conflict. “When there are no peace and reconciliation efforts, there are also many raids,” Wanaswa said. “We get targeted more when the herds move.”
Apart from insecurity, the region experiences other health problems. Low awareness of personal hygiene, she added, had also often led residents to suffer preventable diseases such as diarrhoea, skin and eye infections. The dispensary, which treats between seven and 10 people each day, relies on supplies flown in by the government and NGOs.
Photo: Ann Weru/IRIN
|John Ichom, a teacher at a Catholic mission nursery school in the Kaeris area of the Turkana North district.|
The other problem was low latrine coverage. “Most people use the ‘cat method’,” she said. “Those [residents] who are mobile see no value in erecting latrines which they will not use for long.
“Some say the soil is rocky and are therefore reluctant to dig latrines,” she said. “Waste disposal depends on personal knowledge.”
Wanaswa said community health workers were conducting outreach services. “We are educating the people on the consequences of not having a toilet.”
The dispensary at Oropoi also lacks HIV prevention services while most women deliver at home, seeking medical help only in case of complications. At the same time, the population movements had also contributed to low immunisation coverage of childhood diseases such as measles.
While enrolment in nursery and primary schools is high, transition to secondary education is low due to the tradition of early marriage for girls and boys dropping out of school to take care of livestock.
High enrolment in the lower classes is boosted by the school-feeding programmes. “For most children this is their main meal,” John Ichom, a teacher at a Catholic mission nursery school in the Kaeris area of the Turkana North district, said.
There are few boarding schools and in some, the classrooms double up as dormitories at night.
“It is as if we are not part of Kenya,” said a resident of the lack of infrastructure and rampant insecurity, which had also restricted access to key markets within and outside the region.
In a bid to develop the northern regions, the government has established a ministry of state for the development of northern Kenya and other arid lands.