When the Water Ends
For millenia, nomadic herdsmen have roamed the harsh, semi-arid lowlands of Kenya and Ethiopia. Descendants of the oldest tribal societies in the world, they survive thanks to the animals they raise and the crops they grow, their travels guided by the search for water and grazing lands.
But recently, they have faced challenges that threaten to erase their very existence: As temperatures have risen and water supplies have dwindled due to climate change, pastoralists have had to range farther in search of water and land. That search is driving tribal groups toward increasing conflict.
Meet the Turkana of Kenya and the Dassanech, Nyangatom, and Mursi of Ethiopia — their lives and culture depend on the waters of the Omo River and the body of water into which it flows, Lake Turkana.
In the past few decades Lake Turkana has been experiencing an anomaly: higher temperatures and less rainfall. The water is disappearing. Tribes now have to cross each other’s territories in search of water. Armed with AK47s and Kalashnikovs, they kill, raid livestock and attack their rival’s villages, displacing thousands each year.
These are “some of the world’s first climate-change conflicts,” according to one UN official. And many climate scientists agree this conflict will be increasingly common in the 21st century — as worsening drought pits group against group, nation against nation.
But this story is not only about climate change. The Ethiopian government is building a dam on the upper Omo River that threatens to halt the annual flood cycles if completed, spiraling 800,000 tribesmen even further into conflict.
The nomadic herdsmen of East Africa are caught up in forces over which they have no real control. Although they have done almost nothing to generate the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, they may already be among its first casualties.