IRIN– Veronica Erupe has lived in the village of Manyatta Chokaa, along the Isiolo-Samburu district border in northern Kenya, since 2008 when she fled drought and frequent livestock rustling at her Baragoi home, 600km away.
Erupe, a single mother of four, told IRIN how losing the family’s livestock had forced her to flee her home and pushed her into a life of poverty selling charcoal.
“I was not born here; my family came to this village from Baragoi to escape the terror of bandits. It’s a miracle that we survived [so] many raids. The final raid, during which our 50 remaining goats were stolen, left us poor.
“It is sad that drought and livestock rustling uprooted us from our home. Baragoi was a place I loved; I had many friends [there].
“I still remember the journey; it took us eight days to reach here [Manyatta Chokaa].
“Life since 2008 has been full of hardships for me and my children; my husband quit the marriage.
“I have been relying on selling charcoal since my arrival here. It provided the first meal for my family and helped construct this house. I could buy food, paraffin and clothes.
“But now, life is expensive and it’s difficult for charcoal traders to afford food and items like soap.
“[Recently], the population at our village and other settlements like it – Eremit, Attan, Manyatta Zebra and Ngaremara – has doubled with hundreds of desperate families, who have lost their animals to prolonged drought and cattle rustling.
“This village is now full of former wealthy livestock owners, who are now selling charcoal in Isiolo, so the price of a sack of charcoal has dropped to KSh600 (US$6.67) from KSh1,000 ($11.11) in January.
“But the cost of maize flour, cooking oil, vegetables, paraffin and transport to Isiolo, where we go for treatment, has increased.
“I have tried to adjust, but it’s still tough. My children no longer take a bath; I have not bought them clothes this year. I give them bone soup once a month as they were used to eating meat.
“We have to walk over 30km to get good trees to make charcoal but we risk meeting dangerous animals like elephants along the way. Some women and young girls have been attacked, injured and killed.
“It’s meaningless to work for KSh600 a week [but] we have no choice. We either burn charcoal or die of starvation.
“Manual work is no longer available as those who used to employ us to do house chores are also affected. Some girls are selling their bodies, and it’s risky with HIV/AIDS.
“We need assistance to settle, start small businesses. Our children need scholarships to pursue an education, and they need health facilities.
“We [charcoal sellers] are considered a nuisance, enemies to the environment and our charcoal is often confiscated. But we deserve to be assisted rather than condemned.”