Kenyan Farmers Endure Painful Drought As Millions Face Starvation

Women in Kenya's Tana River region are desperate for water for their families and drought-starved cattle, but have come up empty-handed at this watering hole.

Water is at a premium in Kenya, where four million people are facing starvation as severe drought brings life to a standstill. The government has declared an emergency in four counties, including Tana River on the south coast, but locals there have seen government aid dry up as well.

"We had this government program called Offtake that was being carried out here, but that too has vanished. People are not getting help," says Jared Twalib, youth representative of Wayuboro village, an isolated hamlet.

He's referring to the government programme that would buy livestock from villagers in order to provide relief meat for others in the area.

Pastoralist Ahamed Suleiman says that the government has not provided water for the community, either, and the closest clean water is 20 kilometres away -- too far to walk in the sun for someone who has not eaten.

"If you look at the water that our community is using, it's too salty and cannot be consumed," he says. "But we use it because we don't have an alternative."

The area has had no rain for two years. Experts indicated in a report out this week that this is the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in 40 years, and the rains normally forecast for October to December are expected to fail this year as well.

Some 4.2 million people are suffering from the effects of drought throughout the country, with those in the eastern Tana river region are being hit hard.

Desperate search for water

Ten kilometres outside the village, Habibo Bocha is trying her luck at a well, but it appears nearly dry.

She is from the pastoralist Ormo community, one of the Oromo clans in the Horn of Africa, who predominantly live in the Tana River region.

"I've been looking since this morning. This little water was the only place available," she says, visibly upset.

Bocha is not sure she will be able to fill her jerrycan, as she motions to a large group of water containers next to the well.

"People slept here and some are still coming," she says.

Another Orma woman, Ram Galgalo, walked from Madagala village in search of this precious commodity of water and also worries whether she will fill her jerrycan, too.

The goats and cows she left at home are also in her thoughts; they were too weak to get to the well.

She does not know if they will be able to survive another day without water.

The poor water quality at the dried well forces the community to hire motorbikes in order to fetch clean water 40 kilometres away. It is not cheap.

They use the money they received from selling a strong-looking cow. Clean water sells at a price of 50kshs (42 cents) per jerrycan.

"If you look at the current situation with us now is the true state of how far the drought has brought us and this community has been affected most," says Ahamed Shambaro, Wayu Boro village representative at National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), adding that their true desperation to find water began in January.

Death abounds

The stench of dead animals is all around wafts around Wayu Boro village.

"I brought 30 cows back from the grazing area," says Suleiman, looking around his compound. "I see that half of them are dead, and there are only 15 remaining, and they're too weak."

Livestock is the pastoralists' main source of income, and the lack of water has affected all aspects of their lives.

"We lose more than 1,000 livestock in a day, so the levels of poverty in this community have skyrocketed; and up to now, we have not received any help," says Shambaro.

This is despite several assessments done by the local and national governments, he says.

"We have not found any help even though we have had this problem for a very long time."

Many people have been affected psychologically due to the nature of the drought, says Jared Bombe, head of Kenya Red Cross Tana River Branch.

Some pastoralists who had 100 cows have lost a significant number of them while grazing due to lack of water; those who had a large herd are now trying to keep 30 cows alive, or even only ten.

Water more important than school

Drought has affected the pastoralists and their cattle, but it has knock-on effects for schoolchildren, too.

Instead of attending class eight at school, Habiba, the daughter of Habibo Bocha, is looking for water with her mother.

Not only has she missed school, but she is forced to go without meals because there is no food.

She told RFI she is so angry to see their animals struggle, and die.

"This community was depending on these cattle, they sell them to educate their children, and so many children are now home for lack of school fees. Without water, nothing will move in this community," says Red Cross representative Bombe.

He adds that if the rains will not come as expected then the situation might be worse.

Community representative Shambaro says starved cows cannot be sold.

"And the cow owners who are left can't even start to bargain in the market," he says, adding that they have to accept whatever amount the buyer gives them.

Little help

Residents are frustrated by the unavailability of their political leaders during these hard times.

"We are not even aware if we have an area member of parliament, we have no information at all about this leader of ours," says pastoralist Suleiman, speaking for Wayu Boro and neighbouring village Wayu Duka.

"We don't see them, we don't know where they are despite the fact the community of Wayu is experiencing this hard period," he says, referring to both villages.

The United Nations agencies World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organisation have been giving some aid to residents through the Tana River County branch of the Kenya Red Cross.

"We only pray that our national government and the local government will expedite the Offtake process so that we don't suffer more loss as a community," says Shambaro, referring again to the stalled government livestock-buying programme.

"Are they waiting for all the animals to die so that they can come?"

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