Drought; A looming disaster

Drought; A looming disaster

23/09/2021 Latest News 0

The National Government of Kenya declared the drought a national disaster on 8th September 2021 (https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/national/article/2001422964/president-uhuru-declares-drought-a-national-disaster). The drought condition is dire and worsening in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) including our conservation sites in Garissa County. Garissa county received no rainfall in August and an average of 3.1mm in July which is below the long-term average for July. The 3 months Vegetation Condition Index (VCI) dropped from 25.91 in July to 21.16 in August indicating vegetation deficits and being below the long-term average of 47.4. The poor forage condition is worsening because of the poor performance of long rains (in March, April and May) and windy dry spells in June. 82.8% of the forage condition in Garissa County is poor while 10.3% is fair, with only Boni forest having pasture and browse in good condition. About 70% of water pans have dried up and the remaining ones will probably have dried up by October.

The deterioration of these rangeland resources that include forage and water has triggered migrations and invasions by pastoralists to core wildlife areas, and an increase in poaching activities within our conservation sites (https://ke.opera.news/ke/en/environment/3507b27ea1e91a6621439c570296cd7a) . This is also being witnessed in other parts of the country (https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/rift-valley/article/2001417628/fears-of-fresh-clashes-as-herders-invade-ranches).

With the situation expected to get worse, we have been cushioning the locals, livestock and wildlife from further impacts of the ravaging drought. We have been replenishing water pans for both the communities and wildlife using water trucks. These water trucking activities have started to bear fruits as the average return distances from households to water sources has slightly decreased from a distance of 10.6km to 10.1 km.

However, these distances are slightly longer than the long term mean distances. We, therefore, plan on involving more water trucks and providing water on a weekly basis. We have also been providing high quality feeds to wildlife and livestock. This is expected to improve livestock health and increase their productivity, especially in milk production. This will greatly benefit the local communities by reducing inter-clan conflicts arising from migration in search of pasture, and invasion of wildlife protected areas. Following our assessment and identification of water access points along the river, we are currently lobbying with the Garissa County Government to open these wildlife access corridors that would greatly increase access to water by wildlife. Finally, the body condition of livestock is worsening due to lack of sufficient pasture making them susceptible to diseases. There have been no major disease outbreaks but of concern is the increased cases of endemic Bovine Trypanosomiasis especially in Ijara and Sangailu and isolated cases of CCPP. This is a worry because at least 24 hirola were killed by the tick-borne cattle disease (East Coast fever) and Trypanosomiasis in 1998. Without urgent intervention, this disease could potentially spill over to hirola and cause mass mortalities. As we monitor this situation, we are proposing a livestock vaccination exercise to stop the spread of this infectious disease. Similarly, we have noticed increased cases of giraffe skin diseases associated with malnutrition and other environmental stresses. We witnessed similar skin diseases during the 2019 drought that resulted in the mortalities of 21 reticulated giraffes.