The river itself does not seem to have made up its mind where to go for it starts at the foot of the mountain, flows north, turns east, and then settles in a south-west direction until it disappears into the massive Lorian Swamp in Isiolo.
With population growth, the wetlands have deteriorated to the extent that the pastoralists have to keep moving if their livestock are to survive.
The waters of River Ewaso Nyiro were no longer enough for all and the dry lands were becoming drier due to over-grazing.
At a time when millions of Kenyans are obsessing over who will win the repeat presidential election, it is inspiring to learn that a few of their compatriots have been trying to figure out what they ought to do to guarantee their country’s future, which is under great threat. It is like a breath of fresh air in a room full of dense smoke.
Early this week, I stumbled upon an item in the Daily Nation, the kind of thing one skims over hurriedly. It was about a group of 25 youths from Laikipia County who on Monday embarked on a five-day camel safari “to assess the effect of human activities on the flow of the waters of River Ewaso Nyiro”. They should be back by now, but tragically, we may never know what they learnt — the election campaigns will hog all the space and time available in our media.
In a sense, this is understandable. Nothing is more newsworthy than when political leaders trade bilious insults and concoct improbable rigging claims, when they are not busy trying to intimidate the Judiciary and the IEBC. In a twisted kind of way, this makes sense. An election comes and goes, but destroying our environment is a slow, continuous process that does not evoke much passion.
Though it was not spelt out, there was a purpose to the efforts of those intrepid youths in a county which has of late been in the news for the rawness of the violence perpetrated by and against the pastoral communities that have staked a claim to the lush vegetation and water in the massive ranches of Laikipia. The plain fact is that the river, which has always sustained pastoralists, is dying. If it does, their survival, too, cannot be guaranteed in the long term.
There are many reasons why the river is gradually drying up, which becomes manifest during droughts when for months, there is no water to be found.
Unfortunately, most of the causes are man-made. We have destroyed too much vegetation, felled too many trees, dug too many boreholes, built too many houses and carelessly cultivated too much land without replenishing the soil.
But of course climate change has also played a role and this has not been caused by either the Samburu or the farmers at the foot of Mt Kenya, which is the source of River Ewaso Nyiro.