When we pull into Ngaremara village in eastern Kenya the women welcome us with songs and dance. At first we assume that they are thanking ActionAid for the food distribution that took place yesterday but Enrico Eminae, ActionAid Kenya’s Regional Coordinator, who is travelling with me, quickly points out that what sounds like joyful singing and dancing is actually a lament about hunger and death.
We are suffering because of this drought. We are now living like wild animals having to walk long distances and eat wild fruit.
One of the elderly women of the group, who are Turkana nomads, takes my hand and ushers me to join in the dance. She also gives me two of her beautiful beaded necklaces. Her name is Katerina Itapar Ekiro and like most of the women in her village she is hungry and worried. I’m in Isiolo, in Kenya’s Eastern Province, where a drought affecting at least 3.5 million Kenyans has plagued this community for over three months.
Romano Nasur, field monitor for ActionAid in Ngaremara– whose main job is to ensure that there is fair and transparent food distribution to the villagers – tells me this is the worst drought he has ever seen. “The situation is dire,” he says. “The rivers in the area have dried up. The past three months have been particularly bad. Animals have started dying, especially small livestock. Those with cattle have moved very far in search of pasture and water. No food grows here anymore. Most people wake up early in the morning and walk very far to collect wild fruits called ‘Edung’ or ‘Edapal’ in our language. Women come back at the end of the day and have to boil the fruit for over twelve hours. They often go to bed hungry after a day of walking, having only eaten cooked fruits in the morning.”
The lack of food and water means people have to share their rations with the rest of the community. “Some of us are beneficiaries of ActionAid’s programme, where we get food rations from the World Food Programme,” Priscilla Eduru, a villager in her sixties, tells me.
So when we get food we share it so that nobody goes hungry.
Romano explains that ActionAid targets the most vulnerable people in the community. “We organise a public forum such as this one, and the community members themselves select the most vulnerable people in every village. We normally distribute cereals like maize, rice if it’s available, and sorghum as well as salt.”
Tomorrow we’re travelling to Sericho, an area where I’m told the drought is even more severe than here in Ngaremara. From the harrowing stories I’ve heard today – of lost livestock, of people forced to eat poisonous wild fruits, of year after year of suffering - it’s hard to believe the situation could get any worse.