Millions affected by drought in Kenya and the Horn of Africa

Published: 22 July 2011 11:51 CET

It sounds obvious, but drought affects everything. The day is marked out by the task of finding enough water for yourself, your family and livestock and safely carrying it home.

Fatima Daar Foot has walked many miles to the village of Dertu in north-east Kenya on her daily trip to find water. She is accompanied by her family’s last remaining mule. “All our animals are dead due to the drought,” she says. “We have nothing left. All the camels and goats are dead, and the food prices are so high that we cannot afford to buy food.”

Fatima has eight children and two grandchildren, some have gone to live with relatives who have a little more to share. “It is terrible, we’re suffering deeply,” she says.

Drought affects food prices and incomes. Food prices have increased substantially in the whole of the drought area. Some staple foods have doubled in price. One kilo of rice used to cost 60 shilling (about 40 pence), but now costs 120 shilling. A kilo of sugar was 80 shilling but now it is 150. And while prices rise, the drought makes it harder for families to earn a living from the land, so their ability to buy is reduced.

The village of Dertu is the only water point covering a radius of 50km. It has inevitably become a destination for pastoralists looking for water for themselves and their animals. Some farmers have taken their animals into Somalia where there is more vegetation, but also more danger, but others have died due to lack of food.

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Red Cross National Societies from Kenya, Norway and Finland are collaborating on a new project which will be started in Dertu shortly. In the middle of this dry, arid land, they will create a ‘greenbelt’, providing the pastoralists with an alternative grazing ground for their animals and a chance to re-establish their livelihoods.

This project consists of providing ready access to water by taking it from new and existing boreholes and rivers to irrigate the land. Next year, the village will see the return of workable vegetation, benefitting those who stay, but also the pastoralists who remain committed to their way of life.

In the meantime, water-trucking, borehole rehabilitation and other assistance measure will ensure that Fatima, and many women like her, who take the long walk in search of water should have something to take home.

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