Article Courtesy of Sam Jones | March 26, 2014 | The Guardian | Shared as educational material
NGOs warn that effects of prolonged dry spell combined with a short, belated rainy season could cause widespread hunger
Aid workers are warning of a looming humanitarian crisis in north-west Kenya, where a year-long drought and the late arrival of the rainy season have left more than 300,000 people in desperate need of food and water.
According to the NGO Practical Action, the drought has forced some people in the Turkana region to eat roots, berries and stray dogs to stay alive, as well as prompting 30,000 pastoralists to drive their cattle into neighbouring Uganda.
It is predicted that the long rains, already three weeks late, will be lighter than usual when they finally fall, raising the prospect of widespread hunger.
Sam Olwilly, who leads Practical Action’s Lodwar team, said that while the Kenyan government and a few NGOs had begun to distribute aid, more needed to be done.
“At the moment, people have been undergoing a lot of starvation and livestock have migrated to Uganda, which is a normal practice whenever there’s drought,” he said. “The critical indicators suggest that the drought is expected to worsen if the long rains fail. The forecast already indicates that the long rains are going to be subnormal, so unless something is done urgently, people need to prepare just in case of a humanitarian crisis.”
Olwilly said that while the government’s intervention had succeeded in partially arresting the crisis, the next four to eight weeks would be critical.
“The most important resources are water and food, so we need to make sure water facilities are working and get water to people – and also make sure we support the distribution of relief and the supplementary feeding and medical care of livestock,” he said.
“Most importantly, we need to support the mothers and children, because many times they are left behind when the pastoralists move to Uganda, and they suffer the most.”
Last year, the discovery in Turkana of two vast underground aquifers – storing more than 200bn cubic metres of water between them – raised hopes of vastly improved water access in the semi-desert region, which is home to around a million people.
Practical Action’s Kenya director, Grace Mukasa, said that while solar-powered pumps installed by the charity to draw water from the underground reservoirs have helped ease the situation, the organisation could not reach all areas of Turkana.
“Already, 30,000 pastoralists have migrated with their herds over the border, saving lives and livestock worth millions of pounds in the process,” she said.
“This, of course, means that men of working age have been forced to leave their families and smaller livestock, such as goats. In many communities in which we work only women and children remain, using the solar-powered water pumps we have installed as they battle desperately to survive as their goats die from starvation.”
Figures from the Kenya Food Security Steering Group suggest that the country’s acutely food insecure population increased from 850,000 to 1.3 million between August 2013 and February 2014, with the most vulnerable households in north-eastern pastoral areas.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network estimates that more than 34% of children under five are at risk of malnutrition in parts of Turkana, up from a five-year average of 21%.
The drought that afflicted east Africa three years ago affected some 13m people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, and claimed as many as 100,000 lives. According to figures compiled by the UK’s Department for International Development, more than half of those who died were children under the age of five.
A report published by Save the Children and Oxfam claimed that although drought sparked the east Africa crisis, human factors enabled it to become a disaster.
It concluded: “A culture of risk aversion caused a six-month delay in the large-scale aid effort because humanitarian agencies and national governments were too slow to scale up their response to the crisis, and many donors wanted proof of a humanitarian catastrophe before acting to prevent one.”