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The Turkana district of northern Kenya is where human life began. The earliest known human remains have been found here and in the areas just north across the Ethiopian border.
The fact that human life has been sustained here for hundreds of thousands of years points to a fertile land capable of producing food. So, what has changed?
In a word: climate.
The facts speak for themselves: a two degree rise in temperature since 1960; the last eight years being the hottest on record; a 25 per cent decrease in rainfall over 10 years.
East Africa can produce food to sustain its population but the goalposts have been moved on it.
Today, the Turkana lands are dry and dusty as far as the eye can see. Every river on the 230km drive from Lodwar to Lokitaung has dried-up. Where rivers once flowed, there are now dusty valleys.
On the land which was once home to the River Keiro, we witnessed a group of 30 local people digging holes five foot deep in an attempt to squeeze the last drops of water from the earth.
All over this region, the rivers which once sustained thousands of villages have disappeared. With their nearby river gone, people now have to walk for hours in search of water. When – if – they find some, it is often dangerously dirty. They drink it anyway. What choice do they have?
Andrew Lodio (pictured below) and his family built their homes on a site near to Lokitaung precisely because there was a river, perhaps 50 metres wide, running alongside it. That river is now as dry as the barren land that stretches for a thousand kilometres on every side of it.
“Other years were different,” he says. “There have been droughts here before but never like this one. This one is worse because it is all over the region. Normally if it is bad here we can go somewhere else, but now it is bad all over. There is nowhere to go.”
Andrew is frail. His eyes tell of a man who has not eaten in days. Two days, to be precise.
“Hunger is everywhere,” he says. “We last ate two days ago. It was just a small bit of maize ground down so as we could all get a taste. I had 150 goats before the drought but the drought finished them. I have only five left, but they will also die soon. The goats are very weak. One of the goats is so weak that he can’t move. The future is bleak unless some people come to help us.”
Every village in this region tells a similar tale. Crops have failed, animals have died, people are starving. Their bellies empty, they look at the cloudless blue skies and pray for rain.
In the cradle of humanity, a humanitarian disaster is in full bloom.
Trócaire12 April 2021
Leigh Brady08 April 2021
Trócaire31 March 2021