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 Tuesday 30 October 2007
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HORN OF AFRICA: The pastoralist way of life – a fragile future for millions of children

Photo: Siegfried Modola/IRIN
A Turkana girl waters cattle, Oropoi, northwestern Kenya
NAIROBI, 30 October 2007 (IRIN) - Pastoralist children in the Horn of Africa face some of the greatest challenges and are among the most vulnerable in the world, according to a new report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The region, which covers parts of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, has about 20 million pastoralists, including an estimated four million children.

They mostly live in water-scarce arid and semi-arid areas, characterised by poor road and communication infrastructure, few investments, limited educational opportunities and a lack of basic services.

"At least 90 percent of children below five years in Somalia [where 50-60 percent of the population are pastoralist] are not immunised against measles," Per Engebak, UNICEF regional director, said at the launch of The Pastoralist Child in Nairobi on 29 October.

In some areas of Eritrea, Engebak added, just 22 percent of the children have received measles vaccinations, while in Ethiopia there is only one doctor per 300,000 people.

Access to healthcare is also a major problem in pastoralist Kenya, with people travelling an average of 40 to 80km to reach a health facility, said the report. In the Afar region of Ethiopia, two hospitals, nine health centres and 587 health workers serve a population of 1.4 million.

Only 20 percent of children in these areas go to school. Joseph Kelong, a student from Kacheliba in the pastoralist Pokot area in northwestern Kenya, said there are only two secondary schools in the district and very few skilled teachers.

“Our education is affected by cattle rustling, clashes, water scarcity, lack of electricity and poverty,” he said. “The children in Nairobi [the capital] and Lokichoggio [in northwestern Kenya] should have equal standards of education.”

Malnutrition rates in children surpassed the UN World Health Organization’s emergency threshold rate of 15 percent after successive droughts and flooding in 2005 and 2006.

The report said that malnutrition ranged from 11 to 20 percent in Eritrea, and about 30 percent in several areas in Kenya and Somalia. Overall, by early 2006, at least four million children, 1.5 million of them under five years old were in need of emergency nutrition and health interventions.

The pastoralist way of life has faced difficulties for many years, with fixed borders interrupting migratory routes, rainfall diminishing, and growing pressures on fewer areas of pasture and water sources.

According to Engebak, the most serious effects of climate change are also likely to impact fragile areas like those in the Horn of Africa.

In the pastoralist districts of northeastern Kenya, the average distances to the nearest water points are 25-40km, while below four percent of people in nomadic/pastoralist areas of Somalia have access to safe water sources, the report said.
Despite the inherent challenges, these communities have continued to contribute to the economies of the region, Engebak said.

Photo: IRIN/Anthony Mitchell
Pastoralists mostly live in water-scarce arid and semi-arid areas

Ethiopia, which has the largest livestock population in Africa, relies on this as its second leading export earner after coffee. The camel population in Kenya is estimated to be worth 200 billion shillings (US$3 billion) with livestock production accounting for at least 10 percent of the gross domestic product.

The report recommends inclusive leadership, community involvement and budgetary reallocations, coordinated plans, policies and the role of nationl governments and international donors to improve the lives of pastoralists.

UNICEF’s report launch coincided with the start of Kenya Pastoralists' Week (KPW) - an annual advocacy event aimed at influencing policies affecting pastoralist communities.

According to the acting director of the Centre for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE), Yobo Rutin, the pastoralist way of life is often seen as archaic and has suffered years of neglect from mainstream development.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Education, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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