Amina's daughter Hamdi is severely malnourished because of the drought (Copyright: WFP/David Orr)
Malnourished children and dying livestock are just some of the victims of the drought that is currently ravaging northern Kenya and the Horn of Africa. This is a report from the frontline of the disaster that is blighting the lives of so many people across the region.
A tiny baby in her arms, Amina sat waiting in the health centre at Shanta’abaq near Garissa in north-eastern Kenya. This is a pastoralist area where people depend on their livestock for their livelihoods, moving around in search of pasture. The woman explained her family had lost nearly all their sheep and goats in the drought.
“I’ve got eight children”, said Amina. “The trouble is we no longer have enough meat or milk to feed them. That’s why little Hamdi is sick”.
The nurse came over to measure the child’s upper arm circumference. He put the tape measure around Hamdi’s wasted limb and shook his head.
“Only 9.5 cms”, said Simon Gichuiki. “This child is nine months old but weighs only 4.5 kgs. This is a case of severe acute malnutrition”.
He said there had been hardly any rain in the area since March 2010 and the number of children being brought in for supplementary feeding had been increasing as the drought got worse. About 15 per cent of the children in Shata’abaq were suffering from malnutrition in July.
Like the other women lining up outside, Amina collected a ration of oil and corn soya blend which is delivered to the health centre by the World Food Programme. The ingredients make a fortified porridge to help restore the children’s nutritional status.
Twelve kilometers beyond the town, on the other side of an empty, arid plane, lies the settlement of Aqaraar Centre, a collection of 27 households living in huts made from thorn branches covered with straw matting and pieces of cloth. In one of them live Mohammed Keysan and his family.
“I used to have 80 cattle”, he said. “But there has been no rain for two years and all but one of them died. So we came to this place. We rely on selling firewood and food assistance from WFP”.
Two snapshots of the crisis ravaging northern Kenya and much of the Horn of Africa region….At the time of writing (mid-July), the number of people in Kenya in need of food assistance because of the drought is 2.4 million, 1.6 of whom are receiving food from WFP and the remainder from the Government. The number in need is expected to rise.
The drought has led to alarming rates of malnutrition among young children in the affected areas – in some districts, more than one third of children have been found to be malnourished, some of them severely.
Such is the extent of the disaster, which has been compounded by high food prices, that it is expected to continue beyond the start of the short rains season in October.