Worst drought in 60 years ravages Horn of Africa
Published 04/07/2011 | 05:00
In the Horn of Africa a pitiful trek of the hungry is taking place. Tens of thousands of children are walking for weeks across a desiccated landscape to reach refugee camps, which are now well beyond their capacity.
They are being driven there by one of the worst droughts in 60 years to hit the region.
Combined with the war in Somalia and soaring food prices, the drought is threatening to bring about a famine that may affect between eight and 10 million people.
The malnourished children, some of whom become separated from their parents on the way, are now arriving at the camps in northern Kenya at a rate of 1,200 every day.
At the largest camp, built for 90,000, there are now nearly 370,000 people. Many have covered hundreds of miles on feet that are bare and bleeding. Some reach their goal barely able to stand. Most are exhausted, and dehydrated. All are hungry.
Aid agencies are now beginning to highlight the terrible plight of these families from Somalia and Ethiopia.
Save the Children (SCF), like many charities, has launched an emergency response to the crisis. An organisation spokesperson said: "Some families have walked for over a month through sand and searing heat in search of food, water and shelter. Many discarded the few possessions they had along the way."
SCF's Kenya programme director, Catherine Fitzgibbon, said: "Children have made long journeys in terrifying conditions, often losing their families along the way and arriving at the camps in desperate need of security, healthcare and a normal life."
Neil Thorns, Catholic Overseas Aid Development Agency (Cafod) director of advocacy, said: "There's no rain, no crops and the livestock are dying. There is nothing on the horizon that will make any of that better, and it's almost certain it will get much, much worse. People are migrating in their tens of thousands, but there is nowhere better for them to go. Governments need to wake up to the urgency of the situation and take the action that is needed immediately."
A Cafod spokesperson said that one aid worker, Nelly Shonko, drove the 250km distance between Marsabit in northern Kenya and Moyale on the border with Ethiopia, and saw "hundreds of rural people moving the other way, carrying all their possessions in search of food for their livestock. She knew that the land they were walking towards was no better than where they'd come from."
Journeys of more than 480km are typical of the famished migrants plight.
SCF spoke to one woman, called Fatuma, who had walked from her home in Somalia for a month and a half, with her four children aged between three and 10 to reach a Kenyan camp.
She said: "The weather was very harsh. I left my husband in Somalia. I do not know if I will see him again. The war in Somalia is very bad for families. The drought as well is just too much. We had 15 goats. But they died because of the drought. (© Independent News Service)