“Our Goats are our Gardens” – Evening Herald

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LOKICHAR, KENYA – Ekiru Lotiayan walked for two days with his herd of 35 goats just to reach this dried-up river bed near Lokichar in northern Kenya’s Turkana district.

He points to a mountain on the horizon. “That is my home. My family wait there for me to come back”, he tells us.

We have been suffering with the hunger for many years. In Turkana, we have not had proper rains for two years. Our animals are dying. And we are suffering. We need our animals to live. We have no other way.”

6 months previously, this whole area was a freshwater lake. Now locals have dig down into the bed to find water (Photo: Simon Roughneen, northern Kenya, March 2006)

This part of northern Kenya is home to 600,000 people, out of an estimated 11 million people across eastern Africa that 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.

Ekiru’s goats scrimmage around a freshly-dug pit in the riverbed. After cutting 7 feet into the surface, the underground water welled up. Now a 10 foot X 7 foot pool of brown stagnant water is lapped-up avidly by the thirsty animals.

He says, “there is only one borehole within twenty miles. I come here because there are too many people looking for water everywhere. Sometimes there is fighting.”

As he speaks, two larger herds of goats appear over the river bank, followed by five teenage boys, in groups of two and three guiding their respective animals. After a few minutes, some impatient sounding words are exchanged between Ekiru and some of the boys.

Ekiru, who looks about sixty but tells us he is forty-two, laughs off the exchange, and continues talking, with one eye on his animals still drinking at the pool.

“We have no other source of living except these animals. I have lost 30 goats, 4 camels and 4 donkeys since this drought started. There are no jobs here. We cannot grow things in such a place. Our goats are our gardens. And when they die, we will soon follow.”

To offset Ekiru’s plight, 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.

Without an immediate upsurge in donations, the international organisations and aid agencies will be unable to 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.

Dozens of people have died amid the merciless heat and lack of food and water since December, aid workers and hospital officials say, although the full death toll remains unclear.

Ekiru takes out a small pouch from under his blanket – a standard Turkana garment worn like a toga by both men and women.

“This is all I have to eat while I bring my animals for water.” He shows us a small packet of salt and some locally-grown chewing tobacco – which offsets the hunger pangs generated by days trekking the parched bushland with his goats.

And unless Ekira and many others get the help that they need soon, the dozens referred to above will become many more. And the needs are mapped out clearly. There is not much time.

Otherwise the place where goats are gardens will become a graveyard for many hungry Africans.

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