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
BAGH — Since the October 8 earthquake that killed an estimated 73000-80000 people in northern Pakistan, there have been over 2000 aftershocks. Some have been significant. On Friday December 2, an aftershock strong enough to shake each of the few standing buildings hit Bagh city in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the part of the old princely state of Kashmir now in Pakistan. Then, just last week, a 6.7 magnitude quake in Afghanistan was felt across the entire affected region in northern Pakistan. There have been about 60 aftershocks between 5 and 6 on the Richter Scale. Strong enough to remind people of the first 7.6 magnitude quake, which left almost 3.5 million homeless, and anxiously wondering whether they would have enough of the right shelter to survive the winter. An already-traumatised people receive an almost-daily reminder of the thirteen second disaster that wreaked such destruction. Fear adds to fear, and compounds the worries generated by the winter which is already here. But at least nature can be blamed in its entirety for the destruction and massive loss of life caused by the quake. Or can it? As Kubilay Hilyilmaz, earthquake specialist engineer with GOAL says: “Earthquakes don’t kill people, engineers do. Or more precisely, poor engineering in building design and construction.”
BAGH — Tanveer Ariz runs the Awami Hardware store in Arja, 4800 feet up in the Himalayan foothills. Taking in the equivalent of €3300in the first day of the voucher scheme, he said “People are buying waterproof storage boxes, gas heaters, electric heaters. Elsewhere they are buying more food, as the roads up to their higher villages will be blocked in a few weeks.” With the vouchers, the same families have money and the discretion to purchase supplementary survival materials from 163 shops and stalls. The local economy – almost as devastated as the people it serves – receives a much-needed injection of hard cash. In Ireland, the Small Firms Association has predicted that consumer spending over the Christmas period will reach €4 billion, with up to €22m an hour being spent on Christmas Eve, representing an increase of 10% on last year. If the whole world spent €22 million an hour on earthquake-stricken Pakistan, ten hours outlay would generate more than enough to meet emergency survival needs. Most or all of the boxes on the shopping list could ticked off very quickly.