DIRE DAWA, EASTERN ETHIOPIA — When drought and food shortages hit, it is the very young who suffer first, and most. Weighing only 4.5 kg, Ayaan is among the almost 100,000 children whose lives are at risk across Ethiopia. Just four days before her first birthday, she weighs no more than an average 3 month old baby. This clinic, about 15 miles outside Ethiopia’s second city Dire Dawa, is seeing an increasing amount of such cases over recent weeks. Here land is used to grow the cash-crop narcotic known as khat. In over a dozen villages on the northbound road out of the city, this reporter witnessed groups of mainly young men, but also some women, getting high in the shade on the chewed leaves. Khat is an appetite-suppressant, and local culture means that children often only eat after adults. And that means “if parents are on khat, the whole family goes hungry,” according to a doctor at the clinic.
KANIGIPUR, NORTHERN KENYA — Driving through northern Kenya’s drought-affected famine district as the midday sun lifts temperatures to over 40 degrees centigrade, pools of water shimmer in the distance, laying between dessicated trees and shrubs, with the mountains of Turkana peering through the haze. But these aren’t pools. There is no water here. By a cruel irony, this parched land taunts its thirsty and hungry people with distant images – mirages – of glistening oases in the distance. There hasn’t been rainfall since 2004, according to Akwari Nubukwi, an elder in the village of Kanigipur in the southern Turkana district. “We use the water from the riverbed, where we dig to find it. But it is just a little water, and even the goats and dogs drink from it”, he told me. The locals who are now suffering without water, whose animals – their main food and livelihood source – are dying, know better to be caught out by the illusion of water. Akwari adds: “Many animals have died. We haven’t had rain for a year. People are losing their animals. We are hungry now.”
MOYALE — Leaning on his walking stick, Shamsidin Mohamed flicks his fingers up and down in turn, alternating between whispering and counting out loud in his native Somali. By the time he has finished, he tots-up 23 cattle dead out of a herd of 70. It is a catastrophic loss. These herders are dependent on their animals for food and income. No agriculture is possible in such a barren, rock-strewn, sun-dried place, more lunar than earthly in appearance. “This is very dangerous here. Just a little rain, but no pasture for the animals. Most people can’t count the dead animals. We have to move many kilometres every day looking for pasture, water. The animals are weak, they die in the bush, sometimes people don’t know when and where