Charity workers in east Africa describe the desperate situation in the drought

(SOURCE: Wales Online 14th July 2011)

More than £10m has been donated by people across the UK since an emergency appeal for the East Africa drought was launched last week. But the disaster has still left at least 10 million in desperate need of food, water and emergency healthcare. HELEN TURNER spoke to three people from Wales who have experienced the drought in Kenya to find out how the aid effort is progressing

THE pictures broadcast from the Horn of Africa cannot fail to move.

But for those working to help those affected by the disaster, emotions are taken over by the urgency of the events unfolding.

The worst drought in more than half a century has hit parts of East Africa, affecting more than 10 million people.

Thousands of families have travelled for days across scorched scrubland from Somalia to Kenya, including barefoot children with no food or water, after their crops and livestock were destroyed by drought.

The DEC, the umbrella body representing the UK’s 14 leading aid agencies, said acute malnutrition has reached 37% in some parts of north-east Kenya and child refugees from Somalia are dying of causes related to malnutrition either during the journey or very shortly after arrival at aid camps.

Prices of essential food items have rocketed, in some cases more than doubling as the price of the cattle that people are selling to buy grain falls sharply.

Nicola Pyatt from Monmouth, is in Kenya, and has been working for Save the Children for 18 months.

The 26-year-old said: “At the moment I am the response coordinator, which involves working with everyone in our team to ensure we are able to deliver support to children and their families in a timely and appropriate manner. For example, I work with the logistics team to ensure that supplies such as are medicines are delivered on time, I work with security to keep our staff and the people we support safe and with the media and communications teams to publicise our work and to accurately represent our work to the public.”

Fortunately an influx of funds from the emergency appeal donations are now helping to treat malnourished children.

She said: “The overall response effort is picking up pace rapidly and reaching more people every day. This is a problem that continuously affects these areas of Kenya and Save the Children has been on the ground responding for many months addressing these problems.

“With the increase in funds now coming in, we are able to expand our programmes to treat more malnourished children, to support the large number of children arriving in Dadaab without parents and to increase the number of people who we support by providing access to food, water and healthcare.

“When I first went to Dadaab, there were around 10,000 people a month coming across the Somali border. Now there are 9,000 every week arriving into the already crowded camps, having fled both conflict and a severe food shortage in Somalia. Children and their families are arriving without shoes, with bloody feet, with no change of clothes and having walked for weeks or months through a very dangerous part of the world. Many children are hungry and vulnerable.

“This has definitely become worse than I imagined. We knew the situation was going to deteriorate through the dry months, which is why we’ve been building up our response over the last few months. However, the intensity and sheer scale of the situation has far surpassed what I was originally expecting.”

Ms Pyatt, who previously spent six months in South Sudan, said: “If you go up to the north-eastern areas of Kenya, the first thing you will notice is how brown and grey the landscape appears. You will then notice the carcasses of dead goats, sheep and occasionally camels.

“At first it doesn’t seem like such a big thing but then you remember what those animals meant to the families who owned them. In these parts of Kenya, animals are the equivalent of an income, savings, pensions and investments all rolled into one. To lose all of that in one go is devastating. Even the loss of one or two animals will mean that families are increasingly unable to afford things like food and medicine.

“All of Kenya has been affected by increasing food prices, they are now the highest ever seen and this is having a huge impact on everyone. However, the areas bordering Somalia and Ethiopia are very marginalised and suffer from a lack of basic services such as health care and schools and high levels of insecurity make it difficult for international organisations to operate in many of these areas.

“They are also the areas where people rely most heavily on the environment for their means of living and where the rainfall has now failed two years in a row. This combination makes communities very vulnerable and is why the border areas are now most severely affected.”

She added: “Before Kenya I was in South Sudan. There are some similarities such as insecurity that makes reaching the most vulnerable very difficult. However, every emergency is different. This emergency is extremely complex as contributing factors range from global food prices and the climate to a family’s ability to cope when their means of getting by is put under pressure. Additionally, we are working very closely with our teams in Somalia and Ethiopia as people are continuously moving across the borders in search of water and grazing lands for cattle.

“However, this is a situation in which organisations like Save the Children can play a large role in supporting children and their families. With support from the Welsh public, we are able to buy petrol to enable health workers to reach the most remote communities, we can provide refugee children with shoes, clothes and food. We can support families through this extremely difficult time but we do need help.”

Gregory Akall, an international freelance journalist, grew up in Turkana County, north-west Kenya, where he still lives.

Mr Akall, who graduated with an MA in International Journalism from Cardiff University in 2009, said: “I have witnessed droughts since my childhood and I decided to write about them. I write opinion editorials for the local media but also comment on climate change linked issues including droughts, resource-based conflicts, migration and diseases, affecting pastoralist communities in the Horn and East Africa in international news agencies like Bloobmerg and Reuters. I have worked with the UN, international NGOs and media in the region for more than 10 years.”

Kenya, one of the worst hit countries, has declared the drought a national disaster. More than 1,400 people a day, including many children, continue to arrive in the Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya near the border with Somalia.

But the 33-year-old said the crisis has taken five months to be recognised internationally.

“Both the local and international media coverage on the current drought focuses on the refugees arriving from Somalia into Kenya,” he said. “The drought has been ravaging Turkana County and other parts of northern Kenya since February. Unfortunately, it took five months to resonate globally because of the refugee factor.

“The local media had tried to report the deteriorating situation in the northern part of the country forcing the Government to declare it a national disaster in June. But this is after several months of pastoralists dying of hunger and losing their livestock to the drought.”

Women, children and the elderly suffer most from the drought, he said, often living for four days without any food.

“The food prices have tripled in the past six months where 2kg of maize flour, which is the basic and staple food of most Kenyans has risen from 60 to 180 Kenyan shillings.

“The majority of Turkana pastoralists are now destitute, displaced from their traditional homes and moved into relief centres (urban centre) and heavily dependent on relief food aid.

“But the humanitarian response is slow and yet to reach the affected populations in the vast northern region. People here go for at least four days without food.

“For example, in Turkana, people are scavenging on wild fruits growing along the seasonal rivers to stem hunger. Women, children and the elderly are hardest hit by the drought.

“The strong men and youth have migrated into neighbouring countries like Uganda and South Sudan in search of pasture and water for their remaining livestock.

The distance to the nearest water point has increased. Women are walking for more than 30 miles to fetch water.”

Conflicts to claim what little fertile land there is have also resulted in the deaths of women and children.

He said: “As a result of the drought, competition over dry season grazing land and territories have increased between the Turkana and their Kenyan neighbours, Pokot, who are now claiming some part of the Turkana areas well- endowed with grass and water but made inaccessible by insecurity. Turkana people are also feuding with their neighbouring pastoralists in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda. Since early May, more than 50 Turkana people have been killed in these conflicts, majority are women and children.

“The ongoing insecurity in the Al Shabab rebel-controlled areas has prevented aid agencies from accessing and reaching famine-stricken population in Somalia. I am cautioning the aid agencies responding to this humanitarian situation – they need to support both the Somali refugees and the host pastoralist community affected by the same drought in Kenya to prevent any localised conflicts between the refugees and host community.”

“We hope that this appeal will go a long way in reducing the suffering of the affected people who are yet to receive aid. So far, even those who have received relief food, food is not enough for everyone. In various parts of the region, people are still waiting and in some areas, graves of those killed by hunger are evident in a number of homes. But we hope aid will reach the most affected and reduce their suffering.

“Given the slow humanitarian response to the drought in Kenya, I fear the international community, particularly donors and humanitarian agencies will concentrate more on the Somali refugees fleeing into Kenya forgetting the local Kenyan population already affected by the drought.”

The drought has also brought the number of weddings to a halt, he said.

“Droughts have disrupted the social lifestyle of the Turkana people, culturally, they celebrate weddings during rainy seasons but due to the frequent and intense droughts, young men are no longer marrying. Turkana people do not take emancipated livestock for a bride price.

“So, they have to wait for the rain so that they can wed and accept bride price-but the rains are no more. Another story, adults are skipping meals to keep some food for their children.”

He added: “This is the worst drought the country has ever seen because the humanitarian response is slow and a record 3.5 million people are hungry.

“The country is in full-blown humanitarian emergency – the farming seasons have failed, food prices are high affecting both the traditional drought-prone areas and non-traditional agricultural and urban areas. The drought has affected all equally.”

Branwen Niclas, media and communications manager for Christian Aid in Wales, went to Kenya in April.

Ms Niclas said many of the villages, where animals and livestock had died through lack of food and water, were inhabited solely by women, as the men had migrated to find work and send back “milk or a goat” when they could.

She said: “I went to one village, which was in the past completely dependent on livestock, they lost 5,000 goats and cows over the past year, and families who used to have around 300 cows only had a few left.

“Some of the families in April in villages were completely dependent on food aid from Kenya’s government and water provided by Christian Aid partners bringing the lorries into the villages on a weekly basis. In some areas women were walking a 40km round trip to fetch water in a day.”

To make a donation to the DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal visit http://www.dec.org.uk, call the 24 hour hotline on 0370 60 60 900, donate over the counter at any high street bank or post office, or send a cheque. You can also donate £5 by texting the word CRISIS to 70000

Women are walking for more than 30 miles to fetch water

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