Even Camels Thirst Here – Irish Examiner

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On the road between Lodwar and Lokichar in northern Kenya’s Turkana district, we met a woman carrying 15 litres of water in a container balanced on her head.

She got the water she carries from a borehole further along the road. It is shared between around 100 families. And with the water table depleted, the water must be rationed. Moreover, the water she brings will be given to animals as well as her family. It will not go far.

It is an onerous task in any circumstances – but ordinarily Turkana women would not stop to rest while ferrying water even on the 7 mile roundtrip she is making.

Turkana women at Lodwar, northern Kenya, March 2006 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

It is now evening, and Esther is tired, weakened by months of not having enough food, and as she says;
“We don’t know if we will have enough food, there is not enough water.”

Here, where people’s lives are inextricably bound to their animals, no water means no food.

She adds, “Our animals are dying and they are our food and our livelihood. Without them we are nothing”

With 5 rings around her neck in the Turkana style, Esther is – or was – deemed well-off by local standards. Wealth is more or less denominated in animals – camels, cattle, goats, donkeys. The number of rings on her neck suggests that her husband owns a substantial number of animals. Or rather owned.

She says;
“Some of our animals are dead, all of them are weak. They can’t get food because is has not rained. Even our camels are thirsty. And so are we.”

Turkana people, like many of the 3.5 million Kenyans affected by the drought and food crisis in the north and east of the country, are pastoralists. They depend on their animals directly for food – milk and meat, and indirectly for food and income when they can sell livestock on the local markets.

Now, in Kenya’s eastern Wajir district, the price of a camel has fallen by 75%, and the price of cattle is little over 10% of the pre-drought rate. And the price of maize, where available, is rising all the time. It’s a double-edged sword.

And back in Turkana, while the nomadic-pastoralist lifestyle means that people are always food-insecure, the extent this time is much greater. As is the impact. Northern Kenya is drought-prone, and the desolate and parched landscape is only matched by the increasingly perilous situation for the people who live here.

Previously, droughts affected the region every five years. People knew that, could plan in advance, and had coping mechanisms. Now, drought comes every year or two, and the water shortages are becoming increasingly severe.

Over time the cumulative impact disables people’s ability to deal with the challenges posed by nature – especially as these challenges become more severe.

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.

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 US$70 million of the money needed. Current food stocks are projected to last until the end of April. The Kenyan government says it ahs enough food to last until June – but has since launched a drive to import food to make up the deficit.

Without immediate upsurge in donations, the international organisations and aid agencies be unable deliver. The number of people in need is vast, and the quantity of food alone required is huge. 400,000 metric tonnes in Kenya alone.

And without the resources needed, people will die. Commitments must be made and met now. Even a short lapse in the food supply will mean that weakened people will not be able to cope, even if food is resupplied days or weeks later.

So as camels wilt due to lack of water, people too are fading. There is not much time before people start to die.

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