Fear of Famine Spreads Across Africa
Clouds of dust billow across the pathways of Badanrero Village. As the dust picks up momentum, small children and goats scurry for shelter inside the tiny semi-permanent stick and grass-thatched structures that make up their homes.
Badanrero is a remote village in Kenya, 100 kilometres from the nearest town of consequence. The terrain is flat and desolate, with nothing but dried up shrubs for miles.
The majority of the inhabitants who live in this arid region of Northern Kenya are nomadic pastoralist families. Dabo Boru is a mother of three children who trekked here with her family from her home village 38 km away. They had to move, she says, in order to save their cattle dying of thirst and hunger.
“I brought all these cows here in the hope that they will survive. I even bought for them fodder and water but 18 of them have already died and we are only left with three,” says Dabo. The decomposing carcasses of her dead livestock lie just a few metres from her hut.
In late 2016 the usual rains that sweep across these arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya failed, and a severe drought hit, affecting over 2.7 million people.
Marsabit is one of the hardest hit counties. Thousands of children are struggling to get enough food, and in dire need of treatment for severe malnutrition.
“Hunger is a major problem here, children don’t have milk and we don’t have food and water. Where we fetch water from is very far and it is dirty. We are really suffering because of this drought.”
Most of the natural open water sources in Moyale have dried up, putting immense pressure on the few available boreholes and dwindling water pans.
Households like Dabo’s now have a walk of 10 to 15 kilometres in order to access water.
“My husband has been away from home for two weeks now, looking for pasture for our remaining animals. I am now left alone to protect my children and make sure that they eat, which is very difficult without the animals that provide the milk,” says Dabo.
People are at a higher risk of falling sick because they are malnourished and lack good sanitation. At the nearby Badanrero Dispensary, Hiliki Diba, 27, has brought her nine-month-old twins to be treated for malnutrition and acute watery diarrhoea.
“I have been taught how to breastfeed exclusively for six months,” says Hiliki. “But having twins and the drought have made it very difficult for me to breastfeed them. I don’t produce enough milk, because I don’t eat enough — but there is no food. I am also weak and I fall sick often,” she says.
“Because of the drought there will be at least 100,000 children under 5 years who’ll need treatment for severe malnutrition,” says UNICEF’s Representative in Kenya, Werner Schultink. “UNICEF has put all the requirements in place to treat these children. We are also working with County Governments on the repair of broken down boreholes to increase access to safe water.”
“Over 180,000 children are no longer going to school because either there is no water or there is no school feeding happening,” he says. “Imagine the impact this will have on their future lives and that of their community if it persists.”
Hiliki was fortunate. Her malnourished twin daughters were screened and admitted to a treatment clinic. As part of their treatment they’ll receive supplies of Plumpy’Nut — a peanut-based paste, fortified with nutrients and minerals, which will help return them to health. Mothers coming to the clinic are also taught basic home hygiene and nutrition practices in order to safeguard their health and that of their children during the drought.
This month, Kenya’s Government expects that around four million people will be struggling to find regular food. And according to the UN’s General and Emergency Relief Coordinator in Kenya, Stephen O’Brien, the outlook is grim.
“The forecast for the necessary rains in the coming months is not promising and the fear is that the drought can only get worse. It now requires the international community to step up, because we (UN) are already here. There is need to back this successive track record of saving lives and protecting civilians, who through no fault of their own, have found themselves caught up in the drought.”
With the long, hot summer approaching, affected communities across Kenya are desperately hoping that the much-needed rains finally arrive. If not, it may be the arrival of international aid, not rains, that will be the difference between life and death.
To help UNICEF support children affected by drought and famine, click here
Words by Lachlan Forsyth, UNICEF New Zealand