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Insurance aims to help herders avoid ‘downward spiral’ from drought

A Kenyan nomadic herder walks near camels drinking water at a point in the northeastern town of El Wak, close to the Somalia and Kenya border, February 6, 2009. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

DURBAN, South Africa (AlertNet) – Equipping illiterate migratory herders with drought insurance in one of the driest regions of drought-prone East Africa might seem a big task, particularly in a region where claims adjustors, cell phone coverage and cash to pay for policies are nearly as rare as rain itself.

But a range of such pioneering insurance efforts – considered one of the few ways to help East Africa’s herders weather worsening droughts – are taking hold in Kenya and Ethiopia, and are now being replicated as far away as Peru and Guatemala.

“(Herders) are fantastic risk managers. All they lack is the tools to do it even better,” said Richard Choularton, a senior policy officer focusing on climate change and disaster risk reduction for the World Food Programme (WFP).

Equipping them with insurance “keeps households above the poverty line so they don’t enter this downward spiral” when bad times hit – a key way of helping them adapt to climate change, he said during an explanation of insurance programmes at the United Nations’ climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

In Kenya’s northern Marsabit district, near the border with Somalia and Ethiopia, the landscape is so dry that herding animals – camels and goats in the parched north, cattle in the slightly lusher south – is the only option for most people to make a living.

Long accustomed to dealing with drought, herders have traditional ways of coping, including moving animals to distant pastures, selling some for cash to reduce herds and build reserves when drought strikes, loaning animals to those who have lost their herds and, in some cases, raiding neighbours’ herds to restock.

But worsening droughts – believed to be linked to climate change – mean many of those traditional mechanisms are no longer effective, and growing numbers of families are slipping into hunger and worsening poverty.


Insurance – or more specifically index-based micro-insurance – offers a way to help prevent that, its backers say.

Under most programmes, pastoralists are offered a chance to insure a portion or all of their animals against losses to drought. The average annual cost of a policy in Marsabit district is about $5 to $8, according to Brenda Wandera, who works on livestock-based index insurance programmes there for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Read More …. Alertnet // Laurie Goering , 30 Nov 2011

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