Horn: rain for some, hunger for most

Friday, November 04, 2011

As an estimated 13 million people continue suffering the effects of a historic drought in the Horn of Africa, recent rains have given hope to some farmers in the region.

In parts of Kenya, October rains have allowed farming communities to plant fields in anticipation of a harvest in January or February. Other areas are still dry - and the next two weeks may determine whether they will see any rain at all this year.

The food security outlook for the coming months depends largely on the extent of rains between now and December, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Famine Early Warning Network, (FEWS NET), say. Rainfall is expected to be normal to above-normal but will lessen towards the end of the season in south Somalia, south and southeast Ethiopia, and northeast Kenya.

Despite the rain, water supplies dangerously low
ACT Alliance members are providing emergency aid in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya as food shortages continue.

ACT member Church World Service is providing food to several thousand people in the Mwingi and Kibwezi districts of Kenya's Eastern province. CWS helped build concrete tanks and dams to store rainwater in both places. While rain has started filling these structures in Mwingi, they are still empty in Kibwezi.

Similarly, farmers in Mwingi have planted seeds provided by CWS but in Kibwezi it is too dry to plant. Local food and water supplies are dangerously low.

"Communities are still walking long distances under scorching sun in search of water for domestic use," CWS emergency coordinator Sam Mutua says. "Even if the rains come now, the communities will still require food support until the harvest comes."

The 2010-2011 drought is the worst to hit many parts of the Horn of Africa since 1950, and has created enormous challenges. Food prices have skyrocketed. Those who cannot afford food suffer the effects of malnutrition, whether they live in urban slums or remote, rural districts.

Pastures turn to desert
In northwestern Kenya, the drought has extended a series of dry years that may be a sign of climate change. The Turkana people of this region historically graze cattle and other livestock, but many of their once-fertile pastures have turned into deserts. Some Turkana now raise crops where water is available, but the drought sharply decreased the harvest this year.

ACT’s National Council of Churches of Kenya is delivering emergency food aid to 240 households in the Nakaalei area of Turkana. Rains have returned to some areas of Turkana, but Nakaalei remains very dry, says NCCK coordinator for the North Rift Valley, Raphael Lokol. "Most trees are leafless, and livestock have nothing to feed on," Lokol says.

Paulina Napitau, a Turkana woman in a desertified area near Kalapata, lost her 40 goats to drought, disease and banditry. She and her six children subsist on wild fruits and occasional food deliveries from the Kenya government, which last them only a day or two. Several neighbours have died of hunger.

NCCK delivered food to Napitau's community in October. However, perennial challenges remain in a community severely affected by water scarcity. "Every year, there is no rain," Napitau said.