The severe drought in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda and Djibouti, in some areas, is the worst in 60 years and has left an estimated 10 million people on the brink of starvation. 

In the Ijara district of Kenya, where we have been working for years, women are now walking 8 hours to collect what little water there may be to sustain themselves, all the while exposing themselves to the possibility of rape by bandits in these remote areas.

The causes of this emergency are multiple: climate change juxtaposed with lack of investment in long term development, over dependence on certain cash crops and political divisions make this a complex crisis.

We know that the drought has affected women and girls the most for a variety of reasons.

Since men have migrated away with the livestock in search of pastures, women are left with additional family responsibilities and little resources to carry them out. In the desperate attempt for women’s literal survival, girls are being withdrawn from schools to help with household matters, and women and girls alike are forced to engage in petty trade to put food on the table. Yet while these responsibilities are now in the hands of women, culture dictates that women cannot make any decision to sell or even slaughter small livestock for food, and they have to wait for the men to approve, who have moved far away with the rest of the livestock.

So in the face of so much disaster, what can we do as an international community? How can we inspire hope and increase sustainable livelihoods?

In the long term, people need support to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of drought – by diversifying their livelihoods; building and maintaining sustainable water sources; and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

However, now is time for urgent action. The next rains are not due until October.