Severe drought in Kenya and the Horn of Africa has pushed millions of families into despair, with more than 10 million people in dire need now that crops have failed and prices of food and fuel have skyrocketed. And now, for the first time in 25 years, the U.N. has officially declared a famine in parts of southern Somalia.
“Many of those who have been hit the hardest are pastoralists,” says Nicholas Wasunna, World Vision’s emergency advisor based in Kenya. “Where they used to trade two goats for food, they are now trading four goats for the same amount of food.”
“The international community needs to take immediate action because this drought is likely to persist until 2012,” Wasunna says. “We have not seen the worst yet.”
Wasunna, who recently returned from Wajir, a drought-stricken area in the North Eastern Province of Kenya, said: “I met a mother and her child who traveled seven days to reach a hospital so the child could be treated for malnutrition. There are 3.2 million Kenyans like them that need help, in addition to millions more in Somalia and Ethiopia.”
The crisis is especially dire in Somalia, where there are scarce resources in the South Central region after aid organizations were forced by al-Shabaab to leave in August of last year. Many Somalis are fleeing to Kenya to receive services in overcrowded refugee camps or to stay with family, further stressing already limited resources. World Vision notes the recent announcement by al-Shabaab that aid organizations will be allowed back into South Central and will be coordinating with the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations to assess the possibility of going back into the area to deliver aid.
The number of people affected by devastating drought and hunger in East Africa, also known as the Horn of Africa, has catapulted from 7 million in March to nearly 13 million now. Vulnerable children and families are subject to extreme and potentially deadly malnutrition as livestock perish, vital crops are destroyed and diseases increase.
Young mother Deriko Nyekora, 31, and her tiny son, Emuria, are two victims of the drought. Emuria is weak. Though he is 15 months old, he cannot walk.
Nyekora gently feeds him a package of Plumpy’Nut™, a therapeutic, a corn-soy blend food product for children that World Vision distributes in her home in northwest Kenya’s Turkana district.
“Our child was malnourished,” Nyekora says. “I don’t have enough food. The little food we get is not the required diet.”
World Vision targets families like Nyekora and her two children for a feeding program for severely malnourished children.
Nyekora’s nomadic tribe depends on their livestock for income and food. “The animals that I depend on were driven away by [raiders],” she says.
Furthermore, severe drought in the region has made farming nearly impossible. While the tribe that lives in this area usually expects dry weather for three quarters of the year, this drought is the worst in 10 years.
She now relies on food distribution programs like World Vision’s to keep her children alive.
“I pray to the Lord to give me good health, to protect my children, to give us enough food, and [to] continue providing us daily bread,” Nyekora says. “I pray continuously.”
Emuria Losekon, 39, has faced similarly tragic experiences. She lost her husband and nearly all her livestock in a raid in December 2009.
“I had about 10 goats after the raid,” she says. “But [then] I lost seven goats to drought.”
She adds that after the raid, she had no idea how to feed her five children.
“I was … confused, not knowing what to do. My husband was my everything. I did not even have relatives to support me. I thought that was the end of my life and my children also. I thought my children would die of hunger.”
She moved to a larger village, where she is now part of a regular World Vision food distribution.
“This relief food has really helped me and my children,” Losekon says. “I pray to the Lord for World Vision to bring food here for my children’s suffering.”
Even though this food has helped, Losekon says it’s still not enough.
“The food that I give the children is not enough because it’s a survival strategy—not to make them more healthy, but just to keep them going. So sometimes I forgo meals.”
Unfortunately, there isn’t an immediate end in sight. Meteorologists forecast that the region may not receive normal rains until early 2012, and scientists have described the year 2010-2011 as the driest period in the region since 1950-1951. “The international community needs to take immediate action, because this drought is likely to persist until 2012,” Wasunna says. “We have not seen the worst yet.”
photo credit: May Ondeng, World Vision