“I only think about the future of the children”: drought devastates Kenya | Global development
Dahabley smells of rotten flesh. Bodies of starving cows lie in various stages of decomposition, after being dragged to the outskirts of the village in Wajir County, northeast Kenya. They are added almost daily and fester in the heat amid the multiplying flies.
North-eastern Kenya is well used to periods of drought, but it is experiencing the worst in living memory. As the region’s short rainy season, which begins in October, draws to a close, parts of Wajir have experienced only light showers and other areas have had no rain for over a year. .
In October, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional trading bloc, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations warned that 26 million people were struggling for food after consecutive seasons of low rainfall in the Horn of Africa.
Wild animals are dying and herders report losses of up to 70% of their livestock. As conflicts rage in Ethiopia and Somalia, aid agencies are struggling to assess the extent of the crisis. Now, as the next four-month dry season begins, there are growing fears that large numbers of people may die.
In a round woven stick hut in Dahabley, 22-year-old Hodhan Issack is increasingly concerned about the health of her seven children. âI think about things too much, and honestly, I think I go crazy sometimes,â she says. âI only think about the future of the children. “
Her husband left to look for work months ago. He sometimes sends money, but poor phone reception means they rarely speak. Their 10 cows died and the three goats she left in a herd of 50 are very weak and survive on the children’s leftover rice and corn.
Without making money from the cattle, Issack can no longer afford the monthly school fees of 500 Kenyan shillings (Â£ 3.30) for his two oldest children and they have not attended classes for a month. Her two youngest have thin hair and are visibly malnourished. Issack says she finds it difficult to cope. Mohamed Abdi, a teacher at Dahabley primary school, says that only 60 out of 120 students remain as families have left in search of pasture.
Animals are central to the way of life of nomadic communities in the vast semi-desert plains of northern and eastern Kenya. A healthy cow is worth about $ 300, a goat $ 50, and a camel $ 1,000. Livestock are both a bank account and a key source of food. The cows still alive at Dahabley grow weaker and weaker, sitting emaciated in the shade of the gnarled trees around the village, their value diminishing day by day.
Kusow Mohamed, 52, says that of his herd of 30 camels, 10 have died and the rest are skinny, their fatty bumps have all but disappeared. Yet camels are one of the most climate resistant mammals. âIt’s unheard of,â says Mohamed, âwe’ve never seen them die like this. Now we cannot afford to buy diesel to pump water from the village borehole.
East of Dahabley in Eyrib, in the Sabuli Wildlife Reserve, small businesses and houses are barricaded and more than 70% of residents have left, according to deputy village chief Abdi Karim. âWe haven’t had any rain here for 24 months. Some people lost everything and migrated to the cities.
Water from the river has not poured into the reservoir for at least eight months, and people have been reduced to drinking salt water from boreholes. Wildlife is dying. In November, 10 giraffes, weakened by lack of food and water, died after getting stuck in thick mud as they tried to reach a puddle in the middle of the reservoir. Their bodies have been dragged to avoid contamination of the tank and six left together are pecked by birds as they lie on the outskirts of the village.
âWe have lost 102 Somali reticulated giraffes in Wajir, Garissa and Mandera in the past three months,â said Sharmake Mohamed, president of the North Eastern Conservancies Association.
Warthogs, oryxes and ostriches are also dying of thirst in the Sabuli Wildlife Reserve. The area also lost 30 hirolas, also known as the critically endangered hunting antelope, a species.
“That’s 6% of the total that has been left in the wild,” says Mohamed. Drought causes wildlife, humans and livestock to compete for water and vegetation in areas that have seen small amounts of rain, creating human-wildlife conflict, where lions and cheetahs s ‘attack cattle. The giraffes were trying to drink from the water source intended for the community, which created tensions, Mohamed said.
âDrought has become very frequent over the past 10 years. We could attribute it to climate change, âsays Jully Ouma, disaster risk advisor for IGAD’s Climate Prediction and Application Center.
The rain cycle is disrupted by rising temperatures. Ouma says the extra heat “causes a pressure system that redirects the movement of the winds … so that moisture can be transported to areas where it didn’t go before.” This can lead to a cycle of drought in some areas and flooding in others.
The drought-stricken communities in East Africa are among the least damaging to the environment, but whose lives are hardest hit by the climate crisis.
Muhumed Noor is president of Dujis village in Garissa, neighboring Wajir county. It shows the skeletal remains of cows that died a month ago. Almost three quarters of the villagers’ cattle died.
Three tankers are parked in the middle of Dujis. âThey are waiting for money,â says Noor. The community had to resort to purchasing water, at 45,000 Kenyan shillings (Â£ 300) for 10,000 liters.
“We need three [trucks] per week for the 350 households in Dujis, âNoor explains. But without healthy cattle to sell, the community struggles to pay the drivers, who refuse to leave without payment. âThey won’t go until they get their money. They give us a deadline – a week, a month. If we don’t pay, there could be violence, âhe said.
“The rains have stopped now, so there is no hope of another rain unless a miracle happens,” said Yusuf Abdi Gedi, Wajir’s local livestock and agriculture manager. . The Wajir County administration is struggling to cope with the scale of the emergency and has hired an additional 40 trucks in addition to their 18 to distribute water. However, community leaders in Dahabley and Eyrib say they have not received help from the government. âWe have around 400 villages and we couldn’t reach them all,â says Abdi Gedi.
The authority’s efforts have been crippled by a lack of funds and it is now redirecting money from other projects to deal with the crisis. The actions of Mohamed Abdi, the former governor of Wajir County indicted in April amid corruption allegations, have reportedly exacerbated the problem. âThe systems weren’t in place and there wasn’t enough resilience building before the drought, so we’re just fighting fires,â says Abdi Gedi.
Abdi Gedi says Wajir has not received any additional funds from the national government since President Uhuru Kenyatta declared a national disaster in September. It was supposed to “spark support from the international community,” he said, adding that it had not happened to the extent necessary.
Walking past the carcass of a dead oryx at the dried up reservoir on the outskirts of Eyrib, Abdi Karim and his teacher colleague Abdikadir Aden say that the chief of Eyrib is in Wajir and asks the county government to send some water.
âThe government should look to its people,â says Aden. âTheir people need it very much. “
Sign up for a different perspective with our Global Dispatch newsletter – a summary of our top stories from around the world, recommended reads, and our team’s thoughts on key development and human rights issues, delivered in your inbox every two weeks: