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Eyewitness account of under-reported hunger crisis in northern Kenya

Drought is devastating northern Kenya and parts of neighbouring East African countries. And yet this situation isn’t making headlines. Over 24 million people in the region are now in need of emergency support to survive.

David O'Hare with dead camel in northern Kenya

David O’Hare from Trócaire recently returned from northern Kenya where he saw the impact of the crisis on people there. Pastoralist people are seeing their animals perish because of a lack of water and grazing due to the prolonged drought.

The Turkana region of northern Kenya is a dry and unforgiving land at the best of times.

It is difficult to grow crops and many people are ‘pastoralists’ who rely on their animals – goats and camels mostly – to eke out a living.

With the failure of successive rains and a prolonged drought people across the region are facing starvation. The crops have failed and animals are dying because of a lack of grazing and water.

I saw the reality of life in Turkana when I visited in early May.

Trócaire has been working in Turkana with our partners the Diocese of Lodwar and Caritas Lodwar for many years. The Diocese is the main provider of support for people in the absence of any significant government investment or infrastructure.

The first stop on my journey was to visit an emergency food distribution near the centre of Lodwar town.

This vital aid was targeting particularly vulnerable groups including the elderly, people with disabilities and those living with HIV.  Some of the people had walked for hours in the burning sun to get to the distribution point. 

Food distribution in Lodwar

An emergency food distribution funded by Trócaire near the centre of Lodwar town in northern Kenya. The programme targets particularly vulnerable groups including the elderly, people with disabilities and those living with HIV. Some of the people had walked for hours in the burning sun to get to the distribution point.

There they waited patiently to receive a ration of maize and beans. The people living with HIV received some fruit as well – without it their medication would make them violently sick.

Charles Iria is the Deputy Director of Caritas Lodwar and he told me that the hope was that with more funding the emergency food distribution could be widened to include more people and that the food could be delivered to people where they live rather than them having to walk such long distances to collect it.

I also visited St. Mary’s Primary Healthcare Centre in the town of Kalokol. The centre is supported by Trócaire and is being used as an emergency clinic for young children suffering the effects of malnutrition.

There were dozens of mothers there with their babies and youngsters. Again many had walked for hours to get there. What I saw was heart-wrenching.

Women wait at St Mary's Healthcare Centre

Mothers, babies and infants waiting at St. Mary’s Primary Healthcare Centre in the town of Kalokol.

Many of the children were very obviously malnourished and this was just the tip of the iceberg – it is estimated that half a million children under-5 in Kenya are at risk of starvation in the coming months. 

The clinic weighs and examines the children. The mothers of those who are identified as high-risk are given ‘Unimix’ to feed their children. This is a high-protein, high-vitamin supplement. The children are brought here once a month and this will continue until they are five years old so their progress can be monitored and any necessary support given.
Emergency feeding programmes and health centre support are two very obvious illustrations of the dire situation facing the people of Turkana but I also saw some of the more tangential effects of the food crisis.

I visited a home for street kids where children with no one else to care for them are given shelter and food. There were 200 children there.

Street kids Lodwar

A young child plays with a hoop at the Nadopoyen Centre for Street Children in Lodwar Town, northern Kenya.

Some were orphans but others had been sent away to the town by their families in the rural areas because they simply didn’t have enough food to feed them. 

I also visited St. Lwanga Nakwamewi Primary School which normally has 1,400 pupils. Only around half have returned to school after the recent holiday. Children are having to tend what animals are still alive while parents search for food or work. 

Lwanga Nakwamewi Primary School

Students at St. Lwanga Nakwamewi Primary School in Lodwar, northern Kenya.

What I saw when I was in Kenya was only a snapshot of what has been described by the United Nations as the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.

Drought is also affecting South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen. In Kenya alone there are 3 million people requiring humanitarian aid and this is expected to rise to 4 million by July.

However there is hope. I saw the difference that donations made by people here at home can make on the ground.

In the coming months in northern Kenya, Trócaire is hoping to reach hundreds of thousands more people with emergency food, water and drought tolerant seeds.

Whether their plight makes headlines or not, the people of Turkana, and the other affected regions where Trócaire works, need and deserve whatever support we can give them.

To make a donation or to find out more about Trócaire’s response to the food crisis in Africa visit www.trocaire.org/east-africa

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