ECC Platform Library


Drought and Conflict across the Kenyan-Ethiopian Border

Type of conflict main
Intensity 3
Eastern Africa
Time 1944 ‐ ongoing
Countries Ethiopia, Kenya
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Conflict Summary The Omo-Turkana basin stretches from southern Ethiopia into Kenya. Temperatures in the region are rising and droughts occur with higher frequency and...
Drought and Conflict across the Kenyan-Ethiopian Border
The Omo-Turkana basin stretches from southern Ethiopia into Kenya. Temperatures in the region are rising and droughts occur with higher frequency and intensity. As Ethiopian pastoralists venture further south in search of water and grazing land, conflicts with Kenyan pastoralists and fishermen are intensifying. Given their trans-boundary and protracted nature, these conflicts pose a particular challenge to local peace building and disarmament efforts.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

Since 1960, temperatures in the Lower Omo and Turkana region across the Kenyan-Ethiopian border have been continually rising and droughts have occurred with higher frequency and intensity. As a result, grazing land has become scarcer.

Intermediary Mechanisms

The reduction of pastureland has led to increased competition and overgrazing. This situation has also forced pastoralists to range more widely in search of water and grazing land, frequently bringing them in close proximity to rival groups, with whom they compete over resources.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

Between 1989 and 2011 alone, conflicts between Nyangatom, Daasanach and Turkana caused more than 600 direct deaths.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversChanging climate decreases available land.More frequent/intense extreme weather events reduce available land.Demographic changes increase pressures on available land resources.Infrastructure development changes the allocation of water.Freshwater becomes scarce as an essential resource. Land scarcity hampers agricultural production.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources induces migration.Migration leads to conflicts between migrants and residents.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to distributive conflicts between societal groups.A slow change in climatic conditions, particularly temperature and precipitation.Gradual Change in Temperature and/or PrecipitationReduced availability of/ access to land.Increased Land ScarcityAn increase in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts.More Frequent / Intense Extreme Weather EventsChange in population density, age structure, or ethnic makeup.Demographic ChangeConstruction of major infrastructure, such as dams, canals or roads.Infrastructure DevelopmentAn increase in the scarcity of clean water and/or an increased variability in water supply.Increased Water ScarcityReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural Resources(In)voluntary long and short-term movements of people within or across state boundaries.Displacements / MigrationNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal Groups
Context Factors
  • Overreliance on Specific Supplies
  • History of Conflict
  • Lack of Alternative Livelihoods
  • Proliferation of Weapons
Conflict History

The Lower Omo and Turkana region across the Kenyan-Ethiopian border is home to several communal groups such as the Mursi, Nyangatom, Daasanach (or Merille) and Turkana, which have adopted a nomadic agro-pastoralist way of life in response to a harsh climate and erratic weather patterns. These groups share a conflictual past, marked by intermittent but repeated fighting over essential grazing resources. The region is also the focus of protracted border disputes in the Ilemi Triangle (UCDP, 2015). Since 1960, temperatures in the region have been continually rising and droughts have occured with higher frequency and intensity. In search of water and grazing land, local communities have had to range more widely, bringing them in closer proximity to other groups, with which they frequently fight over water and grazing land (Powers, 2011; e360, 2010). Between 1989 and 2011 alone, conflicts between Nyangatom, Daasanach and Turkana caused more than 600 direct deaths (UCDP, 2015).

Scarcity, migration and resource competition
Since 1960, temperatures in the lower Omo and Turkana Region have risen by almost 2°C and droughts occur with higher frequency and intensity. Areas prone to drought every ten or eleven years are now experiencing a drought every two or three years (e360, 2010). As a result, grazing resources have become scarcer, leading to increased competition and problems of overgrazing and land degradation (Powers, 2011). The reduction of grazing land also forces pastoralist to range more widely or to move closer to the Omo River, where they can diversify their livelihoods by growing crops on the river banks. Frequently this brings them in close proximity to rival groups, with which they compete over resources (Powers, 2011; e360, 2010).

Population pressure and upstream development projects
These dynamics are compounded by growing pressures on local resources. Since 1994, population numbers in the Lower Omo and Turkana region have strongly increased (Avery, 2012; De Cave, 2014). Larger population numbers in combination with heavy reliance on local land and forest resources are, in turn, exacerbating problems of deforestation and land degradation, as woodlands are cleared for fuel wood and construction materials (Powers, 2011). Moreover, upstream dam projects on the Omo River, along with large scale water abduction for commercial agriculture, risk reducing downstream water flows and grazing land for local communities. These projects may also reduce the size of Lake Turkana, which acts as a natural barrier between the rivalling Daasanach and Turkana (see Security implications of the Gilgel Gibe III Dam).

Contested borders and illegal firearms
The Lower Omo and Turkana region is also the locus of protracted border disputes. Both the governments of Kenya and South Sudan claim the Ilemi Triangle, a 10,000 - 14,000 km2 region to the north of Turkana County. But also the Kenyan-Ethiopian border has been a matter of discord in the past. Pastoralist communities have frequently been involved in these disputes (UCDP, 2015). Moreover, porous borders and civil wars in neighbouring Uganda and South Sudan facilitate communities’ access to illegal firearms, so that disputes between herders are more likely to escalate into larger battles and massacres (Leff, 2009; Powers, 2011).  

More generally, both the governments of Kenya and Ethiopia have had difficulties in dealing with local conflicts or improving the living conditions of pastoralists in the Lower Omo-Turkana region. Disarmament programmes have had a mixed record of success and cross-border peace initiatives are complicated by a lack of resources and coordination.

Resolution Efforts

Given their trans-boundary nature pastoralist conflicts in the Lower Omo-Tukana region require a concerted response by Kenyan and Ethiopian actors. In order to coordinate peace initiatives and disarmament programmes on both sides of the border, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has established the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN). With field monitors reporting from each of the countries, CEWARN is able to track and report on violent incidents in order to provide governments and civil society organisations with information regarding trends of emerging pastoralist violence (Leff, 2009).

Cross-border coordination of conflict prevention
Along with the provision of timely information on conflicts, CEWARN also offers a platform for coordinating conflict prevention and mitigation at all levels of government and civil society engagement. At the national level, Conflict Early Warning Response Units (CEWERU) have been put in place in the years 2003 (Ethiopia) and 2010 (Kenya). These collect and analyse information, formulate response strategy and liaise with CSOs. They are assisted by CEWARN’s rapid response fund. On the ground, field monitors gather conflict information and Local Peace Committees (LPC) engage in a variety of conflict resolution and peacebuilding activities (peace education and awareness raising, initiation of peace talks, organising the return of looted property etc.) (Glowacki et al., 2013; Babatunde et al., 2015). They are assisted by a number of CSOs and NGOs that provide training and resources to local conflict mediators, organise consultative workshops and promote cross-border peace initiatives (see Sapcone, 2015; APAD, 2015; Minority Voices, 2012; Glowacki et al., 2013).

Within the CEWARN framework, the Ethiopian and Kenyan government have facilitated a number of peace agreements and expanded cross-border cooperation. In some cases they were able to improve communal relations (Horn Affairs, 2011). Yet, important challenges remain: Lack of training and resources complicates the work of LPCs. Poor transport and communication infrastructures hamper the divulgation of conflict information and the organisation of appropriate responses. As a result, interventions often come too late, which undermines the credibility of the CEWARN mechanism (Babatunde et al., 2015; (Glowacki et al., 2013). Moreover, the engagement of Ethiopian CSOs has been restricted by a recent law, which limits the actions of externally funded organisations (Glowacki et al., 2013). Overall, traditional conflict mitigation institutions are not sufficiently integrated in existing initiatives and there is a lack of horizontal and vertical coordination between agencies, organisations and communities on both sides of the border (Glowacki et al., 2013; USAID, 2015; Gardner, 2015). This becomes particular visible when considering disarmament efforts, where uncoordinated actions have at times encouraged rather than tempered communal conflicts.

The limits of disarmament efforts
Both the governments of Kenya and Ethiopia have launched a series of disarmament programmes in parallel to cross-border peace initiatives. In Kenya, voluntary weapon collections have preceded the forceful disarmament of communities not willing to surrender their weapons. Disarmament projects include a development component designed to improve economic conditions in previously armed areas so as to reduce incentives for violence (Leff, 2009). In northern Turkana, weapon holders were recruited as local defence forces, exchanging their weapons for registered government-issued ones (Leff, 2009). Similarly, the Ethiopian government has registered guns and conferred gun ownership to the local administration and militias for safety and security (Christensen, 2009). At the regional level, the Regional Center on Small Arms and Light Weapons (RECSA) acts as a forum for cooperation to prevent illicit arms trafficking in the Horn of Africa and the Eastern Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization (EAPCCO) helps in the development and enforcement of legislations aimed at reducing cross-border violence (Leff, 2009).

However, the effectiveness of disarmament efforts has been limited in several ways: exactions against civilians during disarmament campaigns and the lack of an adequate security provision to disarmed communities have seriously undermined popular support for disarmament programmes (Leff, 2009). It is further unclear as to whether the creation of local defence forces really contributes to local security or creates new problems by conferring responsibilities to unpaid and untrained civilians (Leff, 2009). Most importantly, lack of coordination between Ethiopian and Kenyan operations has led to situations of uneven disarmament, where some groups have taken advantage of the temporary weakness of their disarmed neighbours (Christensen, 2009; Gardener, 2015).

There is actually an encouraging trend towards the integration of conflict information and peace initiatives across the Kenyan-Ethiopian border. Yet, examples such as the ones highlighted above illustrate the need for a concerted approach to cross-border conflicts, including the need for additional resources and communication between Kenyan and Ethiopian actors.

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Manifest Crisis
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation Regional
Mass Displacement None
Cross Border Mass Displacement No
Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Resolution Success
Reduction in Violence There was no reduction in violence.
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future The capacity to address grievances in the future has increased.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity There has been no reduction in intensity
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Nyangatom community
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Turkana community
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Daasanach (Merille) community
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Government of Kenya
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Government of Ethiopia
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Regional Center on Small Arms and Light Weapons
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
Eastern Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
2 Disarmament, demobilisation & reintegration Both the governments of Kenya and Ethiopia have launched a series of disarmament programmes.
2 Cooperation Within the CEWARN framework, the Ethiopian and Kenyan government have facilitated a number of peace agreements and expanded cross-border cooperation.
2 Improving state capacity & legitimacy CEWARN also offers a platform for coordinating conflict prevention and mitigation at all levels of government and civil society engagement.
3 Improving actionable information The Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN) was established to track and report on violent incidents in order to provide governments and civil society organisations with information regarding trends of emerging pastoralist violence.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Symmetric: All parties can affect the environmental resource equally.
Broad conflict characterization Resource capture is not present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
Conflict References References with URL


Adaptation & Resilience

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Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

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Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.


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Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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