Sedentism and child health among rendille pastoralists of Northern Kenya
Many nomadic pastoralists of Africa are settling near towns and famine-relief centers in response to drought-induced livestock loss, loss of pasture land, increased involvement in market economies and political turmoil including civil war. The present study uses measurements of child health, particularly morbidity, dietary and growth patterns, to evaluate the consequences of sedentism for three Rendille communities of northern Kenya. A nutritional and health survey utilizing interviews, anthropometric measurements, physical examinations and hemoglobin measurements was conducted for 105 mothers and their 174 children under six years of age in three Rendille communities, one fully nomadic and two sedentary, in July 1990, a year of above average rainfall, and again in June 1992, a drought year. Results indicate that while the nomadic Rendille community of Lewogoso shares similar morbidity patterns with its sedentary counterparts and had similar numbers of malnourished children during the wet year, the sedentary communities had significantly more malnutrition among children under six during the dry year. Moreover, the children in the settled town of Korr had significantly higher levels of anemia. Differences in malnutrition are attributed to distinctive dietary regimes: during the drought, nomadic children consumed three times as much milk as the sedentary children, while settled children's diets concentrated on starches, fat and sugar. This study suggests that the pastoral nomadic diet, particularly one dependent on camels' milk, offers children better resistance to the pressures of drought and supports findings that the subsistence base of mixed-species pastoralism is superior to sedentary alternatives with respect to child health.
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Volume (Year): 43 (1996)
Issue (Month): 4 (August)
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