07/08/2012 – Last week, a short flare-up of violence between two ethnic groups in Ethiopia resulted in the temporary displacement of 20,000 people into neighbouring Kenya. The Kenyan Red Cross reported 18 deaths. Land issues are reported to have sparked the fighting.
Those fleeing the conflict to Kenya went through the Moyale border crossing. Some of them were able to stay with their relatives living on the other side of the border. Most have since returned home, but about 2,500 are still taking refuge in a local primary school.
So far, Moyale has been an ‘oasis’ in a region harshly affected by ever intense and more frequent droughts. Last year, Moyale was equally affected by the devastating Horn of Africa drought. However, it was the only region in northern Kenya where the malnutrition rates of the population remained below the emergency level of 15 %. This was the result of several factors, including years of investment in community preparedness for droughts and access to functioning markets.
Much of that investment came through the Disaster Risk Reduction programme financed by ECHO – the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department. The ECHO Programme focused on community-based actions aimed at helping villages to better cope with the impact of droughts and at building up the resilience of the population at risk. From 2006 to 2011, ECHO has invested over €17 million for such projects straddling the Kenya-Ethiopia border – an investment that paid off for the benefit of the people of Moyale.
The recent violence however shows that conflict is one of the permanent risks in this region that can tip the finely balanced scales against the people of Moyale. Anne O’Mahony of Concern Worldwide, one of ECHO’s Partners in Moyale together with UNICEF, works in the area and explains that fighting can be trigged when resources such as water, pasture and land become scarce. While the recent ethnic skirmish is worrying, Anne is confident that the humanitarian impact is only minimal at this time.
The humanitarian situation in Moyale continues to improve. The overall nutrition status is expected to get even better as cows start calving in the next four to six weeks thus increasing the availability of milk. Even though the March to May long rains did not perform as well as expected, pastures have been sufficiently revived. But access to water remains a challenge.
However, Anne is quick to note that Moyale is a very fragile environment and the population is always living on the edge of a crisis. Concern Worldwide in Moyale is working with the Ministry of Health and other health providers to proactively identify malnourished people in order to ensure that they are treated in time. Through direct engagement, communities are learning about good nutrition and hygiene. They are also able to prevent, identify and treat mild malnutrition at the early stages and to seek help quickly.
As Kenya prepares to go to the polls early next year, political tensions are once again fuelling ethnic violence in northern Kenya and the border regions, as demonstrated by the recent Moyale flare-up. Humanitarian organisations and donors should be prepared to respond to increasing conflict in the region as the Kenyan elections draw near, because conflict could quickly undermine the gains made in this fragile environment.
By Martin Karimi
Information Assistant, Nairobi