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‘As a child I didn’t know about begging – but now I beg for help’ – How lives are affected by deepening drought in Kenya

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Women wait for their children to receive treatment for malnutrition in Lekwasimyen in Northern Kenya's Turkana province. Photo: Lisa Murray/Concern Worldwide

Women wait for their children to receive treatment for malnutrition in Lekwasimyen in Northern Kenya's Turkana province. Photo: Lisa Murray/Concern Worldwide

Livestock carcasses lie on the side of the roads in Nakinomet village in Northern Kenya's Turkana province, taken on 29th June 2022.

Livestock carcasses lie on the side of the roads in Nakinomet village in Northern Kenya's Turkana province, taken on 29th June 2022.

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Women wait for their children to receive treatment for malnutrition in Lekwasimyen in Northern Kenya's Turkana province. Photo: Lisa Murray/Concern Worldwide

DROUGHT affects the people of Northern Kenya in so many ways, seen and unseen, that measuring its full impact is almost impossible.

They can count the number of livestock deaths, the amount of debt built up buying replacement food at inflated prices, the children no longer at school, the meals missed, the days of hunger.

But it's hard to quantify what Ekal Mudang from Lokwasimyen village in Turkana county feels acutely - the loss of dignity.

"When I was a child we didn't know about begging," she says through a translator when asked what the drought has done to her.

"Now we must beg for help."

Three of Ekal's eight children are in a supplementary nutrition programme run by the Ministry of Health to counteract malnutrition.

She struggles to feed the rest on a spartan diet of ugali, a stiff porridge-like dish made of maize flour which is served in better times as an accompaniment to meat or vegetables.

There is no meat or vegetables now, and no wild fruits either as the tired trees and shrubs bear few in the dust-dry bushland.

A temporary cash transfer scheme from the government has helped a bit but with the family's goat herd reduced to six scrawny animals and no pasture for them to graze, the future is frightening.

Ekal produces charcoal for sale for cookstoves but, with little to cook, demand is low and prices have fallen because most can not afford to buy it.

She used to take cleaning work too but opportunities are scarce and she has little energy to spare.

"We skip meals," she says, explaining the family can go more than a day without eating. "I have lost strength."

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It is a critical situation that has been intensifying since the last rains in the region fell in spring 2020.

Four failed rainy seasons later and the hardship and anxiety is taking its toll on the bonds between families and communities in this pastoralist society that is so utterly dependent on livestock.

"Husbands and wives experience conflict," she says.

"Sometimes women ask the husbands, why did you not choose another livelihood in the town so we are able to have food and money?

"The husbands say this is what they have known all their life, they know nothing else."

At times when friendships are needed most, these are also under pressure.

"We relied on neighbours and friends," she says. "But people have changed. Everyone has so little that each person is fearing to suffer if they give to someone else."

So Ekal looks to strangers - the government, NGOs, well-wishers - anyone who can help although it hurts her pride to do so.

She is reluctant to consider the future, one in which meteorologists are already warning conditions for the next rains which would be due in October are looking uncertain.

"There is no future if the rains do not come and we don't get help," she says.

That sentiment is repeated across Turkana county which is classified as stage 4 or 'critical' according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).

There are five stages on the IPC scale. Only after the fifth, 'extremely critical', is passed is the term famine applied.

Accounts from Nakimomet village several hours drive away suggest stage five may not be long in coming.

Longole Lochidi’s frustration is clear in her response to a remark about how welcoming her community is to the visitors who have arrived with aid agency Concern to probe their plight.

“Of course they are welcoming. They are hoping you are bringing help,” the widow and mother of nine snaps.

“But they are not bad people,” she adds quickly. “Everyone is struggling for their life.”

And, she adds, there are some even worse off. Beyond this village is another one, she says.

It is a makeshift settlement people are calling Nawokojom - ‘the people who carry hides’.

“They came from the mountains. All their livestock died and they have nothing. All they carried with them was the hides of their animals.

“They have come in the hope that they will be more visible to NGOs and government.”

Now that their presence has been reported, that is a start, but the scale of need across this county, roughly the size of Ireland with one million hungry people, is immense and this is only one small part of a vast region in which large parts of five East African countries are in drought.

Moses Raminya of Concern Worldwide’s Turkana staff who have organised this trip, says supporting people is already very challenging and the task will be daunting if the drought continues.

“There are limited resources and donor fatigue,” he says. “Communities feel this is the worst period they have ever faced but we don’t know what is to come.”

Longole says goodbye with a message.

“If you do come back with help, don’t forget about the people at Nawokojom,” she says.

Of all the things people of Northern Kenya have lost as a cost of the drought, it is not compassion.


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