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In a sea of famine and hunger, a small patch of land in the village of Nakwalekwi, northern Kenya, acts as a beacon of hope.
Surrounded for hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres on all sides by dry and dusty desert, Nakwalewki is home to a farmland which boasts amongst its produce maize, sorghum, green grams, cow peas, bananas, oranges and sugar cane.
In a land stalked by famine, the village of Nakwalekwi remains untouched by the drought which has left over 10 million of its neighbours on the verge of death.
So, how did they do it? Well, for a problem so complex, the answer is remarkably simple: water.
East Africa is capable of producing more than enough food to feed itself. Its problem is that it has no water to allow the crops grow.
It is like a factory with no electricity; a car with no engine.
This is not a barren land. It is the land from which humanity grew; the land that has sustained human life for hundreds of thousands of years.
The Trócaire project which has helped Nakwalekwi grow such a bounty is visual proof that east Africa should not be condemned to the sort of unspeakable human suffering that it has witnessed over recent weeks and months; the sort of misery that has children starving to death and millions going days on end without anything passing their lips.
Nakwalekwi is east Africa’s proof of life. It is definitive proof that we can break out of the cycle of drought and relief if only we can change the conditions in which people here live.
It is not an overly complicated system. Windmills generate pumps which reach into the ground and bring forth the water that lies deep below. The water is stored in a tank, which is linked to a series of pipes that irrigate the crops.
A simple solution, but one which has Nakwalekwi covered in green while all around it gets devoured by dust and sand.
The windmills, which we installed, cost just €2,500. Famines, more than any other type of emergency, are intrinsically linked with agriculture and food production. Our policy is to link emergency relief in east Africa with long-term livelihoods programmes, such as that enjoyed by the residents of Nakwalekwi.
Handing out food can keep people alive in the short-term but what we need are long-term solutions to this crisis. We need to get water and irrigation out to the communities who are most vulnerable to the sort of shocks in weather patterns that has seen no rain fall here in a full year.
East Africa is starving not because the land cannot sustain its people, but because the people have no way to properly farm the land.
Long before this emergency crept-up on the world’s conscience, Trócaire was funding a water pipe in the Tharaka district of Kenya that will bring water directly to the homes of 10,000 people. Once completed, that pipe will largely protect 10,000 people against climate shocks.
It will keep their crops alive; it will keep their animals alive; it will keep themselves alive.
Like Nakwalewki, perhaps one day Tharaka will blossom in green, with fruits, maize and peas growing from plants all along the Trócaire pipe.
Because that’s the thing about famine: it’s not that food can’t grow, it’s not even that food isn’t growing, it’s just that the poorest people in society have no access to the food they need to survive.
If you would like to help us bring water to where it’s needed most, please make a donation to our Global Water Projects fund.
Photos: Eoghan Rice.
Top and middle left: Elizabeth Lomoe displays some of the crops that grow all year round thanks to a Trócaire-funded irrigation system on her farm in Nakwalekwi, northern Kenya.
Middle right: This windmill powers the irrigation system.
Bottom: Trócaire’s Francis Omude displays some of the bananas on the farm.