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CR 19:149-159 (2001)  -  doi:10.3354/cr019149

When deserts flood: risk management and climatic processes among East African pastoralists

Peter D. Little1, Hussein Mahmoud1,2, D. Layne Coppock3

1Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky 40506-0024, USA
2Department of Geography, Egerton University, PO Box 536, Njoro, Kenya
3Department of Rangeland Resources, Utah State University, Logan, Utah 84322-5230, USA

ABSTRACT: Pastoral populations of East Africa confront multiple risks associated with drought, food shortages and insecurity. In this arid region, drought is a Œnormal¹ event and herders pursue strategies of mobility, livestock loaning and diversification to combat its effects. What is not a norm are prolonged floods when precipitation cycles become inverted and dry season rainfall greatly exceeds the average amount for a year. This article examines the events and responses to ŒEl Niño¹ in the rangeland areas of northern Kenya and southern Somalia during 1997/98. It suggests that these global climatic episodes need to be assessed against local factors and processes, which strongly shape their impacts on human populations.

KEY WORDS: African pastoralism · Drought · Floods · Political ecology · Food security · Development policy

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