‘We run away from men only to meet crocodiles’: Kenya drought kills women | Global development
The setting sun brings a warm glow to the huts in Umoja village in Samburu county, Kenya. Christine Sitiyan is sitting outside her house with her beading on, carefully threading the fine thread through tiny bead holes, hoping she can finish the colorful sash she’s making before the dark sets in. installed. The traditional belt can bring in 3,000 Kenyan shillings (£ 20), enough to cover her needs for a month.
This quiet scene is very different from its murky past. Like many girls in her community, Sitiyan never finished school but was married as a young teenager. Seven years later, with two children, she left her husband, unable to endure the beatings of a man who she said could no longer support the family in an increasingly harsh environment.
“He hit me almost every night out of frustration,” says Sitiyan, 25. “The drought killed some of her family’s livestock, while looters from a neighboring community stole the rest. He went to manual labor, earning 300 shillings a day, barely enough to support the family. “One day, I left with the children and found refuge here.
Sitiyan is one of dozens of women and girls in Umoja, a village that has become a relief center for women and girls fleeing domestic violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage. There are no men in there various, the traditional farm.
While women may have escaped these threats, they nonetheless remain potential victims of “drought-induced violence”. Along with women from other marginalized counties such as Garissa, Marsabit, Mandera, Isiolo, Wajir and Turkana, they are at great risk of sexual assault when they walk long distances in search of water.
John Kitui, country director of Oxfam Kenya, an organization that works with local groups to help build resilience, says: “As the drought continues, families have nothing to fall back on and are forced to marry. their daughters early to receive the dowry payment. Without school fees, it is often the girls who are forced to leave the classroom who then have children at a young age. The resulting stress often leads to domestic violence.
Women are also the unwitting victims of tribal conflicts as communities struggle for dwindling resources. Men are forced to move remaining livestock tens of kilometers to find foliage, and left-behind women and children are at increased risk of attack by bandits.
A 2021 food and water assessment report for Samburu says conflicts sparked by “competition for rangeland resources … have resulted in loss of human lives and livelihoods,” the leaders locals reporting an increase in climate-related domestic violence cases.
Henry Lenayiasa, a chef in Samburu, says cases of violence against women by men who can no longer make a living in a hostile environment are on the rise. He says locals may have heard of the deteriorating climate and how it affects them, “but men who are unable to cope with drought are preying on women.”
“We lost large numbers of cattle during the drought. In the arid north of Kenya, a man without cattle cannot provide and loses self-esteem. This is likely to trigger cases of domestic violence. If we do not deal with climate issues properly, such cases will only get worse, ”says Lenayiasa.
Women in these marginalized communities are at risk of attack from other men and wildlife, as dwindling resources force them to move away from their homes to obtain water or firewood. heating.
“No place is safe for us,” Sitiyan said. “I was almost beaten up after young men attacked me on the way to the river, but I managed to escape. It is a risk that we take on a daily basis to provide for our children’s needs.
For Sitiyan and the 38 women of Umoja, the nearby Ewaso Ng’iro river was their main source of water. But its flow was interrupted by vast droughts which sometimes left the river dry. Ten years ago, the Nasa Earth Observatory described the riverbed as “a ribbon of pale beige sand” after a prolonged drought in 2009. At other times, the river has flooded and displaced thousands of people. The river currently has little water, and what there is is contaminated with wastes from domestic and wild animals.
On a hot Thursday morning last week, the Guardian joined three women – Jane Nomong’en, Paulina Lekureiya and Kareni Lematile – for the 25-minute walk to the river. The unmarked road winds through thick bushes. “This is where they are hiding,” Nomong’en said, pointing to a nearby grove where a moran (young Samburu warrior) took care of a few goats. “There are no men in our village to protect us from [troublemakers]. “Along the route are several water basins dug in recent years to collect rainwater. It has never rained.
A steep ravine leads us to the river bed where the women find a place with soft sand and hope it will produce groundwater. Lematile, the youngest, is responsible for scooping up the sand with a cup to make a hole large enough for the water to seep in. It’s exhausting. She pauses every few minutes while the others watch. “A 14-year-old boy was killed by a crocodile while going up there to fetch water,” Lekureiya said. “A woman was also attacked by a crocodile near the same location. She was five months pregnant. We only run away from men to meet crocodiles.
It takes 20 minutes for Lematile to pick up the sand before water begins to collect at the bottom. Using the cup, she carefully collects the water in four 10-liter containers. It still takes an hour. The women take a cup each, and Lematile’s son too. “We have an upset stomach, but what options do we have? Said Lematile.
About 100 yards away, a group of young men scavenge large amounts of sand from the river to fill a truck and sell it to developers, much to the chagrin of the women. The sand harvest leaves the riverbed bare, unable to hold water during the dry season. It also results in flooding during heavy rains. The women fear that if this continues, they will have to walk even further to find water, putting them at greater risk of violence and attacks from wildlife.
The women of Kenya’s drylands know that their future security depends on political efforts from afar this week during the Cop26 climate talks in Scotland, a country where turning on a tap brings instant water.
“World leaders at Cop26 must keep their promises to provide funding to these communities to enable them to cope with the effects of the climate crisis by addressing its root causes,” said Kitui.