29 July 2011

Kenya: Schools Close As Famine Bites

Lodwar — Many schools in northeast Kenya have been forced to close, because there is no food for the children. Bishop Dominic Kimengich, Bishop of Lodwar in Turkana, said: "The shepherds are on their knees because the grass does not grow and the animals die."

This strip of Kenya, caught between the Ethiopian plateau and the Sudanese bush, tells the drama of a famine that is threatening the survival of 12 million people in six different countries. There was a time a few months ago, when government assistance programs managed to fill classrooms that had been usually half-empty. The children were hoping to find a little bit of bread or some rice there, but as of the past few weeks, the rations are not enough and schools have started to close.

Bishop Dominic said: "The Turkana have not seen rain since last year: even the dams' basins have dried up."

The drought has caused stress between different communities, increasingly in competition for water and pastures. In May, as some Turkana shepherds moved across the border in Ethiopia, 30 of them were killed.

It is difficult to evaluate the intervention of government and international bodies, and the UN in particular, as they engage in the distribution of food rations.

Bishop Dominic said he wonders about the very concept of "emergency". "Lake Turkana has always been an arid area, why have stocks not been set aside before?"

Newspapers and radio stations have complained about the government's response to the crisis.

The dry season will last months and the rains are not expected before October. In Kenya, the concern is heightened by the extension of the affected area, 28 districts scattered from Lake Turkana to the town of Wajir near the border with Somalia. On Monday, during an FAO meeting in Rome, it estimated that the situation in East Africa urgently needs 1.1 billion Euros. A second summit was held in Nairobi , only the World Bank and some European countries have offered concrete commitments for help.

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