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Kenya faces impending disaster

Unprecedented drought conditions in north and eastern Africa have resulted in the worst food crisis the region has seen in decades. South Sudan has already declared a state of famine; and Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen are in the midst of severe food shortages. Now, Kenya is also struggling with an impending disaster.

Dibo is a mother in her 30s. Since giving birth to Roba, aged two years, her young daughter has continued to lose weight. She has now been diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition.

Dibo explains her current circumstances: “The drought is here. The animals have become weak. We eat just plain rice. Roba has not had milk to drink since the drought began. We’ve only had rice to feed her.”

Living in a pastoralist community, the family’s main source of income and long-term survival is now under threat. “We have a few goats and sheep, but the animals are weak. Many have died.”

In Turkana County in northern Kenya, stories like Dibo’s are all too common. The majority of families here are pastoralists, surviving on animal husbandry. In times of drought, this means they are completely reliant on their livestock for their source of both food and income. Animals provide daily milk, are slaughtered for eating, and sold. Any income earnt through the sale of livestock allows families to purchase essential items, such as flour, oil, vegetables, and medicine.

Dibo says: “The animals were important because we sold them from time to time; we got our food and milk from them.”

As pastures have completely dried up, families have had to move their livestock to other areas of the country in search of water. Many animals have died along the way. In addition, with the animals far from home, families are left without a source of milk, meat or income.

For others, the animals have been too underfed and weak to make the long trek in search of water and grazing pastures. But they serve little purpose at home – the lack of food to sustain the livestock means they are not healthy enough to sell, and unable to provide either milk or meat for the family.

Unfortunately, drought is a repeatedly unwelcome visitor in this part of Kenya. Communities have only just begun to recover after extreme drought conditions impacted the region three years ago. As such, families have not had enough time to build up vital reserves – in income, in livestock, and even in terms of their own health status.

For Dibo, the situation is now urgent: “Whatever we get will be of help to us. We need food.”

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