Nothing locked out Amina Raka who is in her early 30s, her three month old baby clutched on her back, from taking part in a historic trek to raise awareness about the Conservation of Ewaso Nyiro River.
This was during the camel caravan for climate campaign, a walk that took place in Isiolo County, in Northern Kenya, recently.
Amina is one assiduous woman among the many women who suffer the impact of climate change that is blamed for the receding water levels of Ewaso Nyiro River.
All the way from Malkadaka ward, Garbatula District, her life time journey begun.
Appearing in a dark, tall and charming, dressed in a flowered head scuff, neatly wrapped on the head, long free dress with black and purple flowers, a scarf coiled on the neck, Amina smiles and stretches her hand saying: “Asalaam Alekum” a common Muslim greeting used among the community.
There is a beehive of activities going on here, team members resting at their second last point at Lalesoro, Samburu County, which borders Isiolo County. Men are busy slaughtering a goat, some lighting fire and others busy washing dishes.
A few tents are erected on the dry dusty ground with shrubs full of thorns.
Amina proceeds to show me one of her toes without a nail: “My nail got broken while walking with this caravan, it was a tough journey, but a worthy course, I wanted to demonstrate the seriousness of conserving Ewaso Nyiro River. The scotching sun was a challenge to me," she admits.
“It took courage, resilience and patience to participate in this caravan walk, but I thank God I have managed without any problems. We were worried about wild animals and bandits, despite the police reservists who were among the team for security purposes. This region is known for bandit attacks even where we are now is another hot spot where several vehicles including an ambulance that was ferrying a patient have been attacked in the recent past,” she reveals.
She observes that women suffer most, when a disaster such as drought and famine hits the region.
“Our men move with livestock and we are left behind with children and ugly jaws of death staring at us. It is very traumatising to see your children get malnourished because you have no food, everything has dried up even the only resource –Ewaso River; is threatened,” she says.
In 2011, the area experienced two successive failed rainy seasons in the space of 12 months that led to the driest year since 1995 Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda.
The drought decimated herds and had a devastating impact on pastoralist communities that the period that the river dried for the first time. In Merti, for example, people lost almost all their livestock. Many recount their loses and are ready to do anything for the sake of ensuring that nothing of that magnitude occurs again.
“We are so scared to keep lots of livestock these days, I am doing small scale farming and keeping a few livestock for now, the last drought swept my 50 cattle and this is very unfair,” she says.
Halima Golicha, a mother of seven, says that the camel caravan walk was organised to help raise awareness about the urgent need to use Ewaso water in a sustainable way.
“We know that climate has changed as we experience frequent droughts, and it is upon us to take the initiative to save this river from further encroachment,” Golicha says.
The walk, one of its kind in Isiolo, comprised of 10 hired camels from Merti to Archers Post, had over 50 people participating from the upper stream and lower stream and they later converged at Archers Post town, 35 km away from Isiolo town.
Ewaso Nyiro River is important because it is the only source of livelihood for pastoralists living in Isiolo County.
The river is drying at an alarming rate since people from upper stream divert the water for irrigation leaving the lower region with little water.
Abdulahi Abduba, of Friends of Wildlife from Kina, notes that the river has traces of pesticides which are released in the water by farmers up stream.
Several communities benefit from this river, Samburu, Rendile, Borana, Turkana, and Maasai among others.
The changing harsh weather pattern has led to persistent droughts which leave the people without any source of livelihood given that the community largely depends on pastoralism and cannot afford to see the river die.
Yussuf Mohammed, a member of Sericho Youth United in Garbatula, says that the water levels were very high in the past 10 years.
He objects to the proposed dam project at Oldinyiro saying that it will take a lot of water and hence starve people on the lower basin.
“The planned resort city will be a loss to the Ewaso River ecosystem and result in more conflicts from the downstream users. I challenge people who are planning it to consider environmental impact assessments to save the river from further degradation,” he adds.
According to Leonard Akwany, programme associate, Wetlands International Kenya Office, Ewaso Nyiro River is a closed basin hence very fragile in nature.
“We encourage communities to green their ecosystems by planting indigenous trees like acacia and also practice Ecosystem smart livelihood which come with less threats to the river,” the official says.
Akwany is opposed to people farming along the riparian land adding that the activity destroys the river and recommends that people read the wetlands Atlas, as an educational tool to help them understand their wetlands well and know where they are located.
At Archers post, song and dance rent the air as Samburu women, colourfuly dressed in beaded bracelets and necklaces attract crowds that had gathered to receive the group that had trekked for over a long distance spreading message of conserving the river.
“The river is our only source of livelihood, we need to conserve it is a fragile ecosystem that needed urgent intervention by all of us,” says Godana Doyo, Isiolo Governor.
Maria Twerda, Regional Programme Manager, Netherlands Red Cross for East Africa, says the river is a resource that should be shared equally and sustainably.
This article was originally published in the Kenyan Woman newspaper Issue 45