Families Plead for Help as Drought Ravages Vulnerable Counties
Such are the testimonials by persons affected by the drought crisis in Kenya. Families are grappling with massive animal deaths, a household losing up to 200 cattle, lack of food as most can only afford a basic cup of tea, malnutrition rates in some communities are worrying while those with access to surviving water sources survive by God’s grace as the water is unclean and unsafe for human consumption.
Kenya Red Cross teams visited a number of villages that are hard hit by the drought, lived with them for three days and adopted their lifestyle, witnessing and experiencing firsthand the severity of the drought. These experiences were captured in the form of short stories, the below serving as highlights of the many emotional stories we heard and witnessed.
“I had 68 cattle at the onset of the drought. Currently, I have none as the bad drought kept swallowing my cows: some days ten, five, two until all the cows died. It was a tragedy; very tough. My last cow the last one on 25th December 2017. It was stressful, very stressful. I found my children chopping pieces of meat from it because of the attachment they had since it used to provide them milk.
It became hard to feed my family and pay their school fees. I felt I had no life without my cows. The thought of my kids was painful. They had nothing. I had nothing. Recently, we stayed three days without food surviving on just water. The children kept crying to their mother. I kept lying to them that I will go the shop in the morning and buy them food. When they went to school, they again started crying for food. My children health deteriorated losing weight.
One day I got some little food and really debated whether to take it to my six children and wife. I wondered how they would share the little food and felt it is better I eat it. This made me feel so guilty because it was embarrassing to take home the little food but at the same time it was painful as a parent to eat it while the kids starve.
When goats die, no matter the disease that caused its death, my kids and I slaughter it and eat because of hunger. That day becomes a day of celebration to the kids. We boil and eat, at times the kids are impatient to wait for it to cook, so they eat it raw. So such animal deaths make us very happy. To us, we are not bothered or afraid of diseases that kill animals. We rather eat dead animals and be satisfied, at least before we die. When you sleep hungry, wake up in the morning and see a dead goat, that is food.”
Matawarsesa Village, Madogo, Tana River
Fatuma Salat is blind. If the current drought and hunger knew her status, she could have been spared. She is not able to leave their home alone to go and look for food. Her husband, who would have taken up the role of the hunter, died a few years ago. Her father in law whom she lives with is too old to make five consecutive steps from his Manyatta. She is on her own. Her last meal the previous night was a mix of flour meal and tomato paste.
“I usually send my children to go and borrow shillings from the shops out there and at the end of the day, we have a few coins to buy something to eat, mostly the tomato paste and a little Unga. I have problems.(she pauses bit) I can’t see. I can’t go to look for my own food. This is my source of hunger. If only I could see. If only my eyes could be treated, I would be ok.”
The KRCS teams also met Godana Galgalo at a nearby home and the situation was no different
“My children are crying out for help. We are pleading for help. Whenever they start crying, I am forced to go and ask for food from my neighbors who may also not have. I cannot farm now because of my age.
Our last meal was strong tea and ugali yesterday afternoon. My son experiences frequent seizures especially when he is hungry.”
Hussein and Saidia
Karbosa village, Isiolo county
“We have 12 children but have had to send the rest to live with the grandparents because we are unable to provide for them as a result of the drought.”
The three remaining children are sick and clearly malnourished. They are weak and constantly crying. Shukri, the three year old is looking especially unwell. His mother tells us that she has contracted Malaria.
Saidia then asks the team to join her as she prepares the one meal she and her family may have on that day; a cup of tea with a little milk from the only sheep that is still able to produce the precious liquid. In despair, she mentions that she too is so under-nourished that she is unable to produce breast milk for her 3 month old baby.
Hussein then gives a tour of his once vibrant boma.
“Before the drought, I had 20 heads of cattle and 200 goats and sheep. All my cows are now dead and just 12 sheep and goats survive.” he says with a resigned look.
Seiruk Ali Bashir
Mbalambala, Garissa County
They brave the threat of an attack from lions, cheetahs and hyenas which stay in the thick forest that borders the Tana River, which happens to be the main source of water for residents in the area.
“The water is infested with very many hungry crocodiles but we have gotten used to it. Most of the women come early so that we are many in the river at the same time. Some come to wash their clothes, others bring their animals to drink the water, some fetch while the younger boys either bath or just take a swim. Many people have definitely been killed by the hungry crocodiles while others drown from large quantities of water that come suddenly from the uplands and wash them away.”
For breakfast, Seiruk shared a half-filled cup of tea made from more water than milk with her children who drank from the only cup she owns. She made the tea using water she fetched from the river, which was dark brown because of the red volcanic soil from the highlands and some little goat milk she had been given by her neighbor who willingly shares if and when the only surviving but weak goat gives milk.
“I am not sure about tomorrow and therefore I have to give them half the cup to share just to calm their rumbling stomachs. We usually have the tea twice a day as our main meal and I only take the tea when I have to and so does my eldest daughter. The remaining tea is kept for the younger ones who we give to stop them from crying when hungry.
My husband is a charcoal burner and has been away for some time now trying to fend for the family. I do not have a job but I have to feed my children. All our goats died with the current drought and therefore have no assets anymore.
The cash transfer from the Kenya Red Cross was very useful to my family and especially us women. We could go pay the debts we had incurred from the grocery shop, buy the necessities we need at home and our children would never fail to go to school because we had some money left to pay fees. This is however not the same any more. Even the shop vendor has nothing left and cannot replenish the stock because nobody has the money to pay him. Every day, I can see the children losing more weight due to this diet they have to get used to but we hope that the rain will come soon.”