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When The Water Ends: Africa’s Climate Conflicts


When The Water   Ends: Africa’s Climate Conflicts

Director(s) Jennifer Redfearn
Date released (year) 2010
Production company Yale Environment 360
Length 20 minutes
Location Ethiopia, Kenya
Keywords/tags Civil war, climate change,   desertification, food security, violence
Link to film
Synopsis As temperatures rise and water   supplies dry up, tribes in East Africa increasingly are coming into conflict.   A Yale Environment 360 video   reports on a phenomenon that could become more common: how   worsening drought will pit groups — and nations — against one another.


Reviews/discussion For thousands of   years, nomadic herdsmen have roamed the harsh, semi-arid lowlands that   stretch across 80 percent of Kenya and 60 percent of 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 determined by the search   for water and grazing lands.

These herdsmen have long been accustomed to adapting to a changing   environment. But in recent years, they have faced challenges unlike any in   living memory: As temperatures in the region have risen and water supplies   have dwindled, the pastoralists have had to range more widely in search of   suitable water and land. That search has brought tribal groups in Ethiopia   and Kenya in increasing conflict, as pastoral communities kill each other   over water and grass.

“When the Water Ends,” a 16-minute video produced by Yale Environment 360   in collaboration with MediaStorm,   tells the story of this conflict and of the increasingly dire drought   conditions facing parts of East Africa. To report this video, Evan Abramson, a   32-year-old photographer and videographer, spent two months in the region   early this year, living among the herding communities. He returned with a   tale that many climate scientists say will be increasingly common in the 21st   century and beyond — how worsening drought in parts of Africa, the Middle East,   and elsewhere will pit group against group, nation against nation. As one UN   official told Abramson, the clashes between Kenyan and Ethiopian pastoralists   represent “some of the world’s first climate-change conflicts.”

But the story recounted in “When the Water Ends” is not only about climate   change. It’s also about how deforestation and land degradation — due in large   part to population pressures — are exacting a toll on impoverished farmers   and nomads as the earth grows ever more barren.

The video focuses on four groups of pastoralists — the Turkana of Kenya and   the Dassanech, Nyangatom, and Mursi of Ethiopia — who are among the more than   two dozen tribes whose lives and culture depend on the waters of the Omo   River and the body of water into which it flows, Lake Turkana. For the past   40 years at least, Lake Turkana has steadily shrunk because of increased   evaporation from higher temperatures and a steady reduction in the flow of   the Omo due to less rainfall, increased diversion of water for irrigation,   and upstream dam projects. As the lake has diminished, it has disappeared   altogether from Ethiopian territory and retreated south into Kenya. The   Dassanech people have followed the water, and in doing so have come into   direct conflict with the Turkana of Kenya.

The result has been cross-border raids in which members of both groups kill   each other, raid livestock, and torch huts. Many people in both tribes have   been left without their traditional livelihoods and survive thanks to food   aid from nonprofit organizations and the UN.

The future for the tribes of the Omo-Turkana basin looks bleak. Temperatures   in the region have risen by about 2 degrees F since 1960. Droughts are   occurring with a frequency and intensity not seen in recent memory. Areas   once prone to drought every ten or eleven years are now experiencing a   drought every two or three. Scientists say temperatures could well rise an   additional 2 to 5 degrees F by 2060, which will almost certainly lead to even   drier conditions in large parts of East Africa.

In addition, the Ethiopian government is building a dam on the upper Omo   River — the largest hydropower project in sub-Saharan Africa — that will hold   back water and prevent the river’s annual flood cycles, upon which more than   500,000 tribesmen in Ethiopia and 300,000 in Kenya depend for cultivation,   grazing, and fishing.

The herdsmen who speak in this video 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. “I am really beaten by hunger,” says one elderly,   rail-thin Nyangatom tribesman. “There is famine — people are dying here. This   happened since the Turkana and the Kenyans started fighting with us. We fight   over grazing lands. There is no peace at all.”

26 Oct 2010


Links to other resources FAO:

See related discussions at:

Marius Keller, Climate   Risks and Development Projects: Assessment Report for a Community-Level   Project in Guduru, Oromiya, Ethiopia. Source:



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