Kenya's worst drought in 60 years has left millions of people desperate for food and water as food prices skyrocket, hundreds of thousands of head of livestock have died, and lack of basic sanitation needs have led to the world's worst food crisis.
As parts of western Africa deal with devastating floodwaters from torrential rains, regions in East Africa are dealing with a drought of catastrophic proportions, with millions of people on the verge of starvation as they deal with disappearing water sources, the risk of disease and escalating food and fuel prices.
“This is the worst food crisis of the 21st Century and we are seriously concerned that large numbers of lives could soon be lost,” said Jane Cocking, humanitarian director for Oxfam International, an association of 15 organizations working on poverty and injustice issues.
Rainfall amounts in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are far below normal, with the last two rainy seasons having failed in many parts of the region. Northeast Kenya has received just 10 percent of average rainfall.
“People have already lost virtually everything and the crisis is only going to get worse over the coming months – we need funds to help us reach people with life-saving food and water,” Cocking added.
Shocks such as failed harvests, depleted livestock herds and soaring food prices have combined in leading to a struggle for survival for the Kenyan people. Many live off pastoralism and riverine farming, but the drought’s unrelenting pressure has created mounting adversity.
Dying livestock in Kenya.
“In the mornings, we go out in search of water and return in the afternoon with a 20 litre jerry can of water for the children, the goats, the house needs. We are also relying on National Youth Service [NYS] personnel who are grading the Murram road to Hola for water from their trucks; they are a Godsend,” said Farher, a resident of Hara, a pastoral village just outside Hola, IRIN reports. “In the afternoons we go to the Food for Work program.”
The UN World Food Program’s Food for Assets, also called Food for Work, allows community members to work on new infrastructure, rehabilitating key assets, or learning other new skills. “The biggest problems here are a lack of water and food. Let alone people, even the goats are hungry; the goats are just goats by name because when you take them to the market, no one wants to buy them as they are emaciated,” Farher added.
Water table levels are rapidly shrinking due to a lack of natural replenishment from traditional rains. Residents are forced to dig deeper wells, increasing the risk of collapse. In August, a well in the Konekaliti area collapsed, killing on person.
Henry Obino, commissioner of the Tana River District, said: “The wells are 30-35 feet deep now,” according to IRIN.
The catastrophic drought has led many organizations calling for help. Visiting Kenya recently as an ambassador for the World Food Program, actress Drew Barrymore saw firsthand the devastation caused by the drought. “A simple, healthy meal in a school is so important. I saw how it changes a girl’s life forever. And right now it is such a crucial safety net for the families during this drought crisis,” Barrymore said in a WFP statement.
“You know, all you need in life is water; if it rains, most of these problems will end,” added Farher, the Hara resident.