by Joy Nabukeya
LAMU, Kenya, May 6 (Xinhua) -- Hundreds of fishermen and herders in Kenya's coastal Lamu County, a UNESCO world heritage site, are reeling from a prolonged drought that dried up fresh water lakes.
Sources at the department of fisheries told Xinhua that fishermen who eke a living out of ox-bow lakes spread across Lamu have been forced to explore alternative sources of livelihood following a severe drought that is yet to subside.
Meanwhile, herders who depend on Lamu's major fresh water bodies like Lakes Witu, Didewarede and Kenyatta are spending colossal amount of money in purchasing water for their animals that are on the verge of starvation due to loss of pasture.
In Kitumbini in Witu sub-county of Lamu, the situation has become so dire that villagers lost count of animals that have succumbed to starvation.
Igiro Shora, a 60-year-old pastoralist, has to spend a large share of his dwindling income on purchasing water for his cows.
Shora's humble abode is adjacent to Lake Witu that is home to hippos and crocodiles and a critical source of water for herders.
"Even in the worst of droughts that I ever witnessed, this lake never used to dry up completely. A large section of the lake would dry up but we would still have some little water left for our animals and for domestic use," Shora said.
"Herders from northeastern Kenya and from as far as Somalia have found refuge here in times of worst draught. But this year the situation has been different. Even the wild animals have disappeared and occasionally coming to our homesteads to look for water," he added.
Lake Witu provides a lifeline to an estimated 20,000 livestock keepers and small holder farmers.
According to local officials, several fresh water lakes that have been a source of livelihood to local communities have also dried up amid escalating drought in the greater Lamu County.
"Lake Witu has always been a sight to behold as we troop there with animals and watch them drink water," said a local herder called Ido.
Just like his aged fellow herders, Ido still does not understand how the area which is known to receive rain in four seasons every year, all attributed to the surrounding Witu forest, could be going through such a lengthy dry spell.
But the situation has also been worse for wild animals. Ido said it is now common to come across carcasses of livestock, hippos and other wild animals that have succumbed to the drought, a scenario that heightens their worries.
A local leader called Hassan Albeit said there was no doubt that climate change was seriously at play given the ravages he was witnessing.
"This lake and several other lakes that have dried up," said Albeit. "This is a big blow to our lives and we all have to take responsibility for this sorry state of affairs. In this day and age we should be thinking of how to harness theses lakes as places of recreation for the domestic tourists and not worried about them drying up."
He regretted that such important resources have been ignored by the county and national governments to be left to die out just as there have been no plans to safeguard them.
He said it was unimaginable that such lakes as the Lake Kenyatta could just be left to dry up and in their wake unleash suffering to thousands of residents and wild animals who depend on them.