KANGAKIPUR, KENYA – “The area is dry, the problem is water – we have none. And when there’s no water, there’s no food”, says Paul Enyang, Chief of Kangakipur, a tiny village 30 miles from the nearest road in northern Kenya’s Turkana District.
To reach Kangakipur, we drove in scorching heat, weaving between the termite mounds and thorn bushes, the sole vegetation still alive in the scorched northern Kenyan terrain, as random camels, whose humps now almost flattened due to lack of water, scatter as the jeep approaches where they forage for whatever bit of scrub they can find.
Dried-up river beds intersected the road as we drove on, at first glance appearing like a regular crossroads on the approach.
People, goats, camels walked along where rains might soon bring much-needed torrents of water. But for now the river is indistinguishable from the dusty, rocky road through this remote area.
Here, people are hungry. Enyang says that without rain, there is no foliage for their goats, cattle, donkeys and camels to eat. So the animals are dying, and without their animals, the people will soon follow. Agriculture is impossible here – only the hardiest bushes survive even when drought is not prevalent. So people live off what ever meat and milk they can get from their animals, along with nutritional supplements for the young and elderly given by the Diocese of Lodwar.
But the animals are weak, herds are not replacing themselves as their numbers are reduced by drought and lack of foliage. People have a reduced food source from which to live – and cannot slaughter too many of their animals – as a reduced herd in the future will mean a depleted income and food source.
There is one borehole within thirty miles, and people walk for days to get to this location, or dig into the dried-up river bed to access the subterranean water.
The stagnant pools they uncover are shared between goats and man, adding water-borne disease to the problems faced by these people, whose capacity to fight infection is weakened by malnutrition. There are no drugs available. A once-monthly immunisation and screening visit by a flying doctor service is the sole medical facility available for people within a twenty mile radius.
Overall, an estimated 11 million people across eastern Africa are affected by drought and food shortages. 3.5 million of those are in Kenya, east Africa’s wealthiest country. Elsewhere, 2.6 million Ethiopians and 1.7 million Somalis are vulnerable.
The area where north-eastern Kenya, southern Somalia, and Ethiopia share borders is especially badly affected. Lack of infrastructure, remoteness, marginalisation, and insecurity combine to not only undermine local people’s ability to deal with the harsh landscape and arid conditions, but hinder whatever aid effort can be mounted.
Without immediate upsurge in donations, the international organisations and aid agencies be unable to deliver. The number of people in need is vast, and the quantity of food required is huge. 400,000 metric tonnes in Kenya alone.
And with needs so vast, a huge financial and material effort is needed. The World Food Programme (WFP) is the UN agency responsible for handling food crises. To illustrate the needs involved, the WFP needs US$225 million to purchase food for people in the affected areas across eastern Africa – but has received just over 10% of the money needed. Current food stocks are projected to last until the end of April.
So a crossroads has been reached. Just as the road meets the dried-up river, Kenyans, east Africans and the world must meet a massive humanitarian challenge in the next few weeks.
At a crossroads, as the time-worn image goes, the traveler is confronted with a decision: which way to go. For the people of northern Kenya, there can only be one answer. We must choose the right road, and do so now. Or soon people will die.Show