A simple story about donkeys and people

With thanks to Mwende, Beth, Lydia, Jadida & The Donkey Sanctuary

Aid policy and interventions can raise very complex issues but in drought ridden Mwingi in NE Kenya the role of donkeys is really very simple. Without donkeys, people and their livestock cannot survive.

Donkeys form the vital final link in the distribution of water, food, firewood, fertiliser, grain and market goods.


Mwende holding the skull of Mutawr

This is Mwende holding the skull of Mutawr one of the nine cattle and ten goats she lost in the drought of 2009.


_MG_7561This cow is Kanini, Mutawr’s sister.


_MG_7351Kanini is alive because this donkey has been bringing her water.


Women often carry 25kg of water at a time, a donkey can carry 100kg.

When the drought intensifies, the distance to the nearest water point increases and the wait once there runs into hours.

Without a donkey there are not enough hours in the day for a woman to make the trips needed to keep her family and livestock alive.


Donkeys are drought resistant and can carry loads over long distances. They can survive on dry sticks and little water. Cattle suffer far worse in a drought and cannot make the journeys to distant water points. Water needs to be brought to them.




So it’s thanks to their donkeys that Mwende, Beth, Lydia, Jadida and their families have clean water to drink, water to keep their animals alive and to wash themselves and their clothes with. They also have firewood to cook with, transport for goods to and from the market and a way to spread manure on their land, ready for when the rains finally come.



Author: Crispin Hughes

I am a London based photographer documenting social issues in the UK and internationally. I collaborate on video and art projects with Susi Arnott of Walking Pictures.

3 thoughts on “A simple story about donkeys and people”

  1. Really interesting assessment but I was wondering why it wouldn’t be more appropriate to use camels in these conditions than donkeys, or could they work in unison?

  2. Interested to think about how camels would be ‘more appropriate’ – does it cost more or less, to buy a camel to begin with, and what do they need or like in their day, compared to donkeys? I don’t know, myself, or what the other considerations would be. How and why different people work with different species in different geographies must be quite a mix of factors and circumstances

  3. Thank you for the feedback above. Crispin took these photos while working for us on a story about the recent drought. The Donkey Sanctuary’s International Programme worked in Mwingi before and through the drought.
    Many things affect which animals people use; animals are very different in biology, capabilities and temperament, and in other ways. Camels are much more expensive than donkeys. Mwingi is on the margins of the arid plains than run to Somalia, so camels are not the first choice working animal. But even in arid areas, where there is insecurity camels are being replaced by donkeys because camels are too risky an investment. Donkeys are also easier to handle.
    The Donkey Sanctuary does not promote donkeys but where they are being used we work to help people look after them as well as possible. In places like Mwingi our local staff and partners work as closely as possible with the local community recognising that our work with donkeys also helps the rest of the community including people and other animals.

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