Rains return but life remains precarious in northern Kenya after years of drought

DEC Chair Clive Jones reflects on a recent trip to northern Kenya and the ongoing challenge for East Africa, where the pattern of the seasons is no longer a foregone conclusion.

DEC Chairman Clive Jones reflects on a recent trip to northern Kenya and the ongoing challenge for East Africa, where the pattern of the seasons is no longer a foregone conclusion.

A village in Marsabit County, northern Kenya, in January 2018. David Mutua/CAFOD.

By Clive Jones, DEC Chairman

At last, the rains have returned to East Africa after two and half years of drought, failed crops and dying livestock. An international aid effort, including the DEC’s East Africa Crisis Appeal, kicked in early on to provide people across the region with live-saving assistance and prevent the kind of tragedy seen in 2011, when the UN estimates as many as 258,000 people died.

But even though now many areas are draped in green, the crisis isn’t over. Such a prolonged period of drought has destroyed food reserves and left the lives of many on a knife edge. And in a tragic irony, hundreds of thousands are now affected by flash floods across Kenya and Somalia that requires renewed humanitarian attention.

The current deluge is a far cry from what I saw in January this year when I visited Marsabit County, northern Kenya, one of the most severely affected by last year’s crisis, and saw for myself the devastating effect the historic drought had had on people and communities.

The Kenyan government declared a national drought emergency at the beginning of 2017, and soon crops failed and cattle, goats and even camels herded by pastoralists succumbed. In Marsabit, Kenya’s biggest county, three times the size of Wales, 60 percent of livestock perished and food prices shot up.

The DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal that aired on the BBC. This appeal is now closed.

This was the case all over the region, which faced one of the biggest humanitarian crises in its history driven by successive droughts, failed harvests, conflict and insecurity. In the East Africa region 16 million people were on the brink of starvation and in urgent need of food, water and medical treatment.

The DEC appeal launched in March 2017 has raised more than £65 million with the support of the British public and UK Aid. It was heartening to see the result of those generous donations in northern Kenya. I met many people who had benefited from cash schemes that had allowed them to buy food for their families.

Dida Baru didn’t know how his family would survive, let alone pay the fees to keep sending his 17-year-old daughter, Lokho, to school. But a Food for Fees scheme funded by a DEC charity meant Lokho got through to graduation and the family are doing well. The work is ongoing, with food, treatment for malnutrition and medical outreach centres still operating in the most arid areas of Marsabit.

Lokho, 17, wants to go on to study computing after graduating school thanks to a Food for Fees scheme. David Mutua/CAFOD.

I visited an outreach centre monitoring the weight and height of young children to stave off malnutrition and providing health checks and vaccinations. Eighteen-year-old mother Gillo Bagajo’s husband was 500 kilometres away, tending to the remaining 20 sheep and goats of their previously 100-strong herd, and she had struggled to get enough food for her 10-month-old son, Ali. Since Ali was put on the supplementary feeding scheme run by the centre, she has seen his weight steadily improve.

I also saw longer term projects that have increased the resilience of the area. Water pans had been deepened, dug by local villagers who were paid for the work so they could support themselves through the crisis. Dima Qonchoro, a 47-year-old mother of six, lost two thirds of her family’s goats, and her husband and son had been away for six months searching for pasture. Getting paid £3 a day to dig out the water pan had been a lifeline, and helped pay for a small building she one day hopes to open as a shop.

Dima was paid to help deepen a water pan and now plans to open a shop. David Mutua/CAFOD.

New strategically placed boreholes had been dug to support disparate communities that had been dependent on water trucks for months. Some had been equipped with solar power making them cheaper to operate, and a community I visited in Dukana – one of the areas worst hit by the drought – had used these savings to fund a garden growing juicy watermelons and spinach, and is planning on planting more.

All these are signs of progress and a testament to both the good aid can achieve and the positive attitude of the people who live here. Your donations provided a lifeline for people across East Africa, and helped build resilience in a region where the pattern of the seasons is no longer a foregone conclusion.

One of the moments that will stay with me from my trip was my first antenatal class since my youngest daughter was born more than 20 years ago. Crucial advice on nutrition, HIV screening and malaria prevention was being shared, but the session started and ended with a prayer, a song and a dance – an act of defiance in an area badly affected by drought but determined to fight on and ensure its children have the chance to grow up healthy and well.

The DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal closes this week. If you can, please give generously to help people across the region rebuild their lives.

This appeal is now closed, but to help the DEC be ready for the next humanitarian crisis you can donate to the DEC Emergency Fund.




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How southern Ethiopia is recovering from drought with the help of your donations

East Africa is experiencing its first successful rainy season in more than two years, and DEC funds are helping people rebuild their lives.

East Africa is experiencing its first successful rainy season in more than two years, and DEC donations are helping people rebuild their lives.

By Monica Blagescu, DEC Director of Programmes and Accountability

Right now, southern Ethiopia doesn't look like it suffers from drought. The hills and valleys of South Omo are covered in green. It's the rainy season, and this year for the first time in three years, it's been a good one.

In fact, it’s almost been too good, and appearances can be deceptive. There has been so much rain that many of the nutrients have drained away from the soil, causing crops to yellow. Things have been worse over the border in Somalia where flash floods have displaced 175,000 and affected 427,000 people overall.

In late May, I travelled to southern Ethiopia to see how donations to the DEC are helping communities that suffered through more than two years of drought and failed harvests that culminated in last year’s crisis that saw many areas sliding towards famine, and led the DEC to launch the East Africa Crisis Appeal.

I saw some of the amazing results that DEC funds have brought to the area. DEC charities have helped people who last year became so desperate that they were forced to eat their seeds that were intended to rebuild their livelihoods and regrow their crops. One of those people was Doida, who I met standing proudly in the middle of his field of maize, grown from seeds and sown with tools funded by your donations.

Doida stands in his field of maize, grown with seeds and sown with tools funded by a DEC charity. Barney Guiton/DEC.

It was also fantastic to see how our member charities work with local communities to decide how to allocate funding to help those most in need and the robust systems in place to handle concerns and address feedback.

One community I visited was receiving cash to spend on food and other essentials, and people in the village had chosen poor female-headed households to receive it. Sale and his brother are severely disabled, and spend most of their time at home. Initially they were left out of the programme, but Sale voiced his concern and was subsequently included. “This programme is good because it has consideration for me,” he told me. “There was no awareness of disability in the community before, but now there is some.”

Sale received unconditional cash transfers to help him through the drought. Barney Guiton/DEC.

He explained that it was difficult for him and his brother because no one understood their needs, but by receiving cash, they could choose for themselves how best to spend it.

In another remote community, a DEC charity was providing special fortified food for older people. I saw local staff assessing people’s progress. Elema was one of those who had improved. “I was measured and it was found that I was malnourished so I received the food,” she said. “Now I am gaining weight.” But this programme, like many, was coming to an end as funding ran out, and there is still a two-month wait before the harvest comes in.

Elema was malnourished but is now doing well thanks to a DEC-funded nutrition programme. Barney Guiton/DEC.

Your donations have had a huge impact in the communities I visited, and hundreds of others across the region. In total, DEC funds allowed our member charities to help almost 2.5 million people in the first six months of our response, with many more planned to be reached this year.

But the needs are still great and there is much more to do. Our East Africa Crisis Appeal is now closed, but many of our member charities are still working in the region.

Thank you for your support.

This appeal is now closed, but to help the DEC be ready for the next humanitarian crisis you can donate to the DEC Emergency Fund.


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