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Kenya's heart stops pumping



Peter Ole Nkolia, farmer, Narok, Kenya

By James Morgan
BBC News, Kenya

Peter Ole Nkolia picks his way through a pile of black ash and brittle bones - the remains of his latest cow to die of thirst in Narok, western Kenya.

This is supposed to be the rainy season. But the rivers in his town are dry. And his wheat fields are brown and bare.

"Before this drought, I had 50 cows. Now I have only four," says the farmer.

What you are going to see here is the skeletons of cattle - and maybe people
Peter Ole Nkolia

Narok farmer


"And the ones remaining - you can see they are weak. They need help in the morning, just to stand up.

"The water they drink, it comes from Mau forest. But the river is going down."

Mr Nkolia is one of hundreds of thousands of farmers in Narok and Kajiado whose cattle have keeled over and died in the heat.

About 80% of their livestock have perished this year - forcing farmers to sell off their weak animals for slaughter for as little as 1,000 shillings ($13; £8) per head.

Progressively worse

The droughts here have grown progressively worse since the turn of the century - ever since the growth of settlements and illegal logging upstream in the southern (Maasai) Mau forest.

Climate change has played its part - reducing the rainfall throughout much of Kenya.

Kipkorir Ngeno
It's not true - We are not affecting Kenya in any way
Kipkorir Ngeno
Farmer, Mau forest

But here in Narok the impact of global warming has been amplified by the destruction of the Mau - Kenya's largest water catchment.

Maasai farmers like Mr Nkolia are angry with the predominantly ethnic Kalenjin settlers upstream, accusing them of "stealing" the forest and the water.

And there is a real fear that human suffering could precipitate a civil conflict. An explosion of simmering ethnic tensions after elections last year left some 1,300 people dead across the country.

"If the destruction of Mau shall continue, I can assure you that a lot of people will suffer," warns Mr Nkolia, who has six children to feed.

"If those people up there are not careful, all rivers in lowland Narok will dry and up and the result - nobody will survive.

"What you are going to see here is just the skeletons of cattle - and maybe people."

Soil and urine

The outlook is all the more incredible when you consider that Narok is known as the "breadbasket of Kenya" for its fertile farmlands.

But the water shortages here now are acute. The few boreholes in the area are salty - making them often unsuitable for drinking.

Maasai lady
This Maasai pastoralist says the river water tastes of cow urine

And because the rivers are low, the water is becoming more hazardous to drink.

"It tastes of soil and urine from cows," says a pastoralist, filling her jerry can in near Narok.

"But what else can we drink? It's all we have.

"I hope for nothing but that they [the settlers in Mau forest] leave."

'Somebody's mistake'

Local area MPs are demanding action in Mau - and their warnings have a menacing edge.

"There is a lot of suffering in my constituency... and it was somebody's mistake," says Nkoidila Ole Lankas, MP for Narok South.

The culprits have to be punished... We'll get a better Kenya
William Ole Ntimama,

MP for Narok North


"All of those people involved in this illegal allocation - the law should take its due course."

His words are echoed by William Ole Ntimama, MP for Narok North, and the longest-serving member of the Kenyan Parliament.

"I feel that these 20,000 people in the forest are destroying the lives of millions of people downstream," says the 80-year-old.

"The culprits have to be punished. We'll get a better Kenya.

"If you ask the ordinary Maasai moran [warrior] he is ready to go to the forest and take action. But I am telling him to wait."

Peter Ole Nkolia is one such Maasai. He has only one calf remaining - and he fears that the next drought will wipe his herd out completely.

"I cannot stay here suffering, when they are enjoying," says Mr Nkolia.

"When my field is drying, I will come where they are [the forest].

"The result will be conflict. Where we are going is not good."


Your comments on this story:

I read this with lots of sadness in my heart. Our environment is second to none. The mau issue is a serious one that needs urgent intervention & not grandstanding as witnessing from politicians. I strong support our "KING", the hon. w.r.ntimama for his unwavering demand to have all illegal settlers moved without further delay. I am a young moran & if the king calls us to action, we r always available what with the Mara river drying up & the spectacular splash of the wildebeest on their way to Serengeti.
Pareyio ole lelerue, Ewuaso village, Kenya

I live close to the mau forest and my great great grandfathers have lived there for ages and we have never cut down any trees nor have we ever experienced the disaster we are experiencing now as a matter of fact we have conserved the forest for so long until the politicians started messing up with it. The people living in the mau forest and saying its their land are big jokers, they need to pack their stuff and head out to where they came from to avert disaster.
Sammy, Narok, Kenya

I am a dental and medical missionary here in Narok town and it is horrible. It looks like rain everyday but doesn't rain. We have lived here 2 years this coming December and it rained the first year we were here. I brought a rain gauge to Narok from the states in January 2009 and we haven't had 4-5 inches of rain this whole year. People and animals are really suffering. The Kenyan people suffer from so much, with a corrupt government and with this on going drought I could see violence coming to the fore front. We have heard many Kenyans talk that the country could be easily thrown into civil war were they would be fighting and mad over many issues. We live in town but the people that live out that rely on farming and rivers for there water are in real danger. Those that can pay for it are buying water here in town but if the drought keeps up I don't know where they will keep getting water from. Everyday I think it can't get any dryer or more dusty.
Penny Martin, Narok

Its pathetic. I Personally concur with the Maasai elders and leaders that a major mistake was done during the KANU regime and if the situation is not urgently arrested no doubt most communities will suffer to an extent of massive loss of lives. Indeed i wonder why every attention is on the MAU forest while all rivers across the country are drying up. Lest our leaders forget, the previous two regimes made grave mistakes when they allowed the land demarcation officers to allocate water catchment areas to individuals. I would Personally urge our government to take stern measures to repossess all major and minor water catchment areas across the country and stop treating some communities as if they are persuaded not to invade others. Otherwise the MAU issue alone is no cure for Kenya's water menace. Not at all !!
Johnson kiraithe, Nairobi, Kenya



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