‘We run from men only to meet crocodiles’: Kenya’s drought is deadly for women

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The mounting prima brings a lukewarm glow to the huts successful the colony of Umoja successful Samburu county, Kenya. Christine Sitiyan sits extracurricular her location with her beadwork, cautiously moving the bladed thread done tiny bead holes, hoping she tin decorativeness the colourful loop she is making earlier acheronian sets in. The accepted loop tin fetch 3,000 Kenyan shillings (£20), capable to screen her needs for a month.

This tranquil country is precise antithetic from her troubled past. Like galore girls successful her community, Sitiyan ne'er finished schoolhouse but was joined disconnected arsenic a young teenager. Seven years later, with 2 children, she near her husband, incapable to endure the beatings from a antheral she says could nary longer fend for the household successful an progressively harsh environment.

“He would bushed maine astir each evening retired of frustration,” says Sitiyan, 25. “The drought killed portion of his family’s livestock, portion raiders from a neighbouring assemblage stole the rest.” He took up manual labour, earning 300 shillings a day, hardly capable to supply for the family. “One day, I conscionable took disconnected with the children and recovered refuge here.”

Sitiyan is among scores of women and girls successful Umoja, a colony that has go a rescue centre for women and girls escaping home violence, pistillate genital mutilation (FGM) and aboriginal marriages. There are nary men successful this manyatta, the accepted homestead.

Christine Sitiyan, 25, recovered  refuge successful  Umoja colony   aft  fleeing from her husband
Christine Sitiyan, 25, recovered refuge successful Umoja colony aft fleeing from her husband. Photograph: Peter Muiruri

While the women whitethorn person escaped these threats, they are inactive imaginable victims of “drought-instigated violence”. Along with women successful different marginalised counties specified arsenic Garissa, Marsabit, Mandera, Isiolo, Wajir and Turkana, they are astatine large hazard of intersexual molestation arsenic they trek agelong distances successful hunt of water.

John Kitui, state manager of Oxfam Kenya, an organisation that works with section groups helping to physique resilience, says: “As the drought continues, families person thing to autumn backmost connected and are forced to wed disconnected daughters aboriginal to person dowry payment. Without schoolhouse fees, it is often girls who are forced retired of people who past carnivore children astatine a young age. The resulting accent often leads to home violence.”

Women are besides the unintended victims of tribal conflicts arsenic communities combat implicit dwindling resources. Men are forced to determination remaining livestock tens of kilometres distant to find foliage, and the women and children near down are astatine accrued hazard of attacks by bandits.

A 2021 food and h2o appraisal report for Samburu states that conflicts triggered by “competition for rangeland resources … person resulted successful nonaccomplishment of people’s lives and their livelihoods”, with section leaders reporting expanding climate-related cases of home violence.

Henry Lenayiasa, a main successful Samburu, says cases of unit against women by men who tin nary longer eke retired a surviving successful the harsh situation are connected the rise. He says residents whitethorn person heard astir clime breakdown and however it affects them, “but men who are incapable to header with the drought instrumentality it retired connected women”.

“We person mislaid livestock successful large numbers during the drought. In Kenya’s arid north, a antheral without livestock cannot supply and loses self-esteem. This is apt to trigger cases of home violence. If we bash not code clime matters adequately, specified cases volition lone escalate,” says Lenayiasa.

A pistillate   successful  Korr, Marsabit region  walks with her donkeys successful  hunt  of water
A pistillate successful Korr, Marsabit county, walks with her donkeys successful hunt of water. Photograph: Peter Muiruri

Women successful these marginalised communities are exposed to hazard of attacks from different men and from chaotic animals arsenic dwindling resources mean they person to question farther from their homes to get h2o oregon firewood.

“No spot is harmless for us,” Sitiyan says. “I was astir beaten up aft immoderate young men waylaid maine connected the mode to the river, but I managed to escape. It is simply a hazard we instrumentality regular successful bid to supply for our children.”

For Sitiyan and the 38 women successful Umoja, the adjacent Ewaso Ng’iro River was their main root of water. But its travel has been interrupted by extended droughts that astatine times near the stream bony dry. A decennary ago, Nasa’s Earth Observatory described the riverbed arsenic “a airy tan ribbon of sand” aft a prolonged drought successful 2009. At different times, the stream has flooded and displaced thousands. The stream has small h2o currently, and what determination is is contaminated by home and chaotic carnal waste.

On a blistery Thursday greeting past week, the Guardian joined 3 women – Jane Nomong’en, Paulina Lekureiya and Kareni Lematile – for the 25-minute locomotion to the river. The unmarked way weaves done heavy bushes. “This is wherever they hide,” Nomong’en says, pointing to a adjacent thicket wherever a moran (young Samburu warrior) tended immoderate goats. “There are nary men successful our colony to support america from the [troublemakers].” Along the way are respective h2o pans dug successful caller years to cod rainwater. It ne'er rained.

 Kareni Lematile, Jane Nomong’eng and Paulina Lekureiya walked for adjacent  to 2  hours to find   water
Left to right: Kareni Lematile, Jane Nomong’en and Paulina Lekureiya walked for adjacent to 2 hours to find water. Photograph: Peter Muiruri

A steep gulley leads america to the riverbed wherever the women find a spot with brushed soil and anticipation it volition output immoderate underground water. Lematile, the youngest, is tasked with scooping retired the soil with a cupful to marque a spread wide capable for h2o to seep up. It is exhausting. She takes a interruption each fewer minutes portion the others support watch. “A 14-year-old lad was killed by a crocodile portion fetching h2o up there,” Lekureiya says. “A pistillate was besides attacked by a crocodile adjacent the aforesaid spot. She was 5 months pregnant. We tally distant from men lone to conscionable crocodiles.”

It takes Lematile 20 minutes of scooping retired soil earlier h2o begins to cod astatine the bottom. Using the cup, she painstakingly collects the h2o successful four, 10-litre containers. This takes different hour. The women instrumentality a cupful each, and truthful does Lematile’s son. “We get immoderate tummy upsets but what options bash we have?” says Lematile.

Kareni Lematile drinks the h2o  dug up   from the riverbed
Kareni Lematile drinks the h2o dug up from the riverbed. The h2o tin origin tummy problems. Photograph: Peter Muiruri

About 100 metres away, a radical of young men are scooping retired ample quantities of soil from the stream to capable a motortruck and merchantability to developers, overmuch to the chagrin of the women. Sand harvesting leaves the riverbed bare, incapable to clasp h2o during the adust season. It besides results successful floods during dense rains. The women are acrophobic that if it goes connected they volition person to locomotion adjacent farther to find water, exposing them to much hazard of unit and attacks from chaotic animals.

The women successful Kenya’s arid areas cognize that their aboriginal information depends connected governmental efforts being made acold distant this week astatine the Cop26 clime talks successful Scotland, a state wherever turning connected a pat brings instant water.

“World leaders astatine Cop26 indispensable present connected promises to supply concern to these communities to alteration them header with the effects of clime situation by addressing its basal causes,” says Kitui.