Dozens of people have already been killed and violence and the head of Oxfam in Kenya says the violence will spread.


Gezahegn Kebede said on Monday: "The knock-on impact of the crisis risks sparking conflict on a scale that Kenya hasn't seen for almost a decade."


Kenya is one of the worst-affected countries from a drought that has ravaged east Africa since late last year.


Scores of people and tens of thousands of livestock have died from starvation and related diseases in the arid northern regions.


But Oxfam said the death toll from the drought was also swelling from an upsurge in fighting between nomadic cattle-herders over scant water and grazing resources.

Tribal tensions

"It's not just the food crisis that is claiming lives in Kenya ... Unless aid to the affected area is stepped up this month, March could see many more killed," Kebede said.


In the worst recent incident, according to Oxfam, fighting between Kenya's Turkana tribe and groups from neighbouring Ethiopia killed 40 people last month.


Tens of thousands of livestock
have perished from starvation

In other cases, clashes between the Turkana and Karamajong tribes near the border with Uganda have led to the burning of pastures, while a recent raid in Isiolo left nine people dead.

And in Lomelo, three tribes - the Samburu, Pokot and Turkana - were sharing pasture and water in a tense situation where "fighting could break out at any time", Oxfam said.

The Kenyan government, which has been criticised by many for a late response to the situation, says about four million of its 32 million people are facing food shortages.

Hussein Yussuf, of the Isiolo Peace Committee, a community group trying to reduce tensions in the area, said tensions were being exacerbated by a cross-border flow of arms from "unstable countries" like Somalia and Ethiopia.

Societal breakdown

Also, the ever-further migration in search of resources was breaking down tribal structures, sending young people far from elders.


"The knock-on impact of the crisis risks sparking conflict on a scale that Kenya hasn't seen for almost a decade"

Gezahegn Kebede,

"Right now there is nobody who is controlling the youth so everyone depends on their strength of arms," he said, "If the drought continues, I'm telling you, the situation will be much worse."


Oxfam said the remote north had long been neglected and needed long-term help, particularly more boreholes.

"We now have a very small window in which to stop this crisis turning into a catastrophe," Kebede said.


"The implications of failing to step up the aid effort now will not just be starvation, it could also bring large scale conflict."

Oxfam said it was helping more than 200,000 people with food and water in the Turkana and Wajir regions.