Kenya and Somalia: a tale of two droughts

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

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Nick Guttmann blogs from northern Kenya

Have now reached Sololo in the far north of Kenya very near the Ethiopian border. I made a similar trip, driving north along the Somali border during the 2006 drought, and this time I was struck by how few animals we saw. It is clear that many people have not been able to restock after the last major drought and those that did have lost a very high proportion of their herds.

We met a man yesterday at a small reservoir known as a water pan, who arrived with his 30 cattle. He told us that he had 3,000 when this crisis began. That water pan was likely to last another 15 days and after that he fully expected to lose his remaining 30 cattle because they were now too weak from hunger to walk to the next pan or borehole.

As one of the few sources of water in the area, this water pan was crowded with hundreds of animals, mostly camels and goats, which are hardier than cattle. People breed cattle because they provide milk and command a higher value than goats in times of rain.

The political chaos in neighbouring Somalia means that we do not know for sure how many people are suffering the effects of the same drought there. We can only estimate based on the huge numbers who are arriving at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya and Dolo Ado in Ethiopia.

I have worked in Somalia in the past and there is no excuse for people being forced to flee their homes in search of emergency relief because humanitarian agencies are being targeted by Al Shabaab and other armed groups.

ACT is about to begin trucking water to fill tanks for communities in Kenya that have little or no water left. We are also supporting local technicians to make sure that the overstretched boreholes are equipped with spare parts and are kept in good repair.

We will also pay people a market rate for their remaining cattle so they do not lose everything and are in a position to restock when the rains return in October.

Such simple initiatives could easily be replicated in Somalia allowing people to stay where they are instead of making a long and dangerous trek across the border into Kenya. All belligerents in Somalia must allow unfettered access for humanitarian agencies so that they can provide much-needed emergency relief without fear of attack or repercussions.

It is fantastic that some agencies are managing to work in Somalia, but it is crucial that more are allowed to enter and work freely.

In Kenya the drought problem is just as bad, but the government here welcomes the international relief effort and works closely alongside it. The scale of the problem and financial constraints hinder work in Kenya, but at least politics does not.

ACT Alliance's work in Dadaab is carried out by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), which manages the camp.