Climate change is driving hunger and poverty in northern Kenya

Famine threatens northern Kenya. The livestock die en masse due to the drought, and as a result, families lose their income and status.

Forty-five cows and fifty goats. That’s the toll the drought is taking on Darkuale Parsanti and his wife Mary Rampe. Their animals have died one by one due to the prolonged drought. Ravens peck at the carcasses. The family now has only one cow and five goats left. Ramp: ‘This is a disaster for us. Even the Masai, who take care of our animals and travel with them, are now at home in despair. ‘

“This is a disaster for us.”

Like many mothers in this region, Mary Rampe has the difficult task of choosing between the nutritional needs of the family and their pets. “What little cornmeal we have, we prepare and give first to the babies, then the children and the calves,” says Mary. Families in the countryside are saddened to see their livestock being decimated and their wealth and status lost.

No rain and no government assistance

In northern Kenya, a region with low rainfall, the ongoing drought has serious consequences for local people. Who feels forgotten by the government of the country. Climate change is affecting many families. “I hope it rains soon,” says a mother of four. “Otherwise, the damage will be even greater. We can only hope in the grace of God. ‘

Safia Adan, another mother, agrees: ‘I have never experienced this. Over the past five years, Marsabit has experienced drought, floods, famine, conflict and COVID-19. We can ‘t handle this. I wonder if my children will survive this. ‘

‘Because of the drought, we now have to beg for food from aid organizations and the government.’

The weather pattern has changed a lot. Instead of a regular rainy season, there is now a prolonged drought without a single drop of rain. The region around Marsabit is experiencing its worst drought in decades, as is the whole of northern Kenya. Pets die galore. Ltadakwa Leparsanti, a young Masai living in Marsabit, says his family was rich thanks to the livestock but lost everything due to the drought. ‘We could buy everything we needed and we could dress nicely. Due to the drought, we now have to beg for food from aid organizations and the government. It’s unbearable, ”he says.

Conflicts over food and water

Nearly two million people are at risk of starvation, according to a recent study by the UN, the UNHCR Refugee Organization and the World Food Program (WFP). Rising fuel and food prices make the situation even more uncertain. Conflicts arise due to the struggle for food and water for livestock.

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Aurélie Marrier d'Unienville / IFRC / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One year after World Vision, a Christian aid organization, drew up an emergency plan in the form of the East Africa Hunger Emergency Response, the situation has worsened. The toxic mix of conflict, the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed millions of people to the brink of starvation. President Andrew Morley states that food shortages for humans and animals are the harsh reality in arid northern Kenya. ‘Climate change does not just mean drought. It also leads to floods due to the extreme amounts of water when it finally rains. ‘ Aid organizations say the areas that were already hit by drought, floods and locust plagues before the pandemic now have the highest risk of famine.

Emergency plan for seven million people

In East Africa, climate change has destroyed lives, crops and livestock and damaged the resilience of local communities, which must now bear the economic consequences of the pandemic. As a result, famine threatens to assume extreme proportions. Over the past year, World Vision has implemented a contingency plan in 12 countries and raised funds worth US $ 132 million.

‘We are trying to create water buffers that can absorb periods of drought.’

The NGO is thus trying to protect 7.1 million people, including 3.4 million children, from famine. Morley: ‘The communities are having a very hard time. We are trying to create water buffers that can absorb periods of drought, and to create other forms of livelihood that will also guarantee an income during periods of drought in the future. It’s everyone’s job now, and indeed the big problem worldwide. ‘

Mothers and children bear the brunt of the climate crisis

Even in Kenyan coastal areas like the Tana River, drinking water is scarce. To get drinking water, four people have to go down and up a cliff and form a chain to pass the water. That task belongs to women. They are taking increasing risks to keep their families alive.

The northern Turkana region has also been hit by the drought. Pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and children under the age of five are particularly affected by the climate crisis. Nurse Benjamin Lokol works at the medical station in Nakatongwa and notes that malnutrition is on the rise in the area: ‘The drought has affected many families in our area. We have helped 200 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and 65 young children. Thanks to World Vision we can help the weakest, but the pandemic led to lockdowns and therefore we were for a long time unable to meet the needs of our target audience. ‘

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