“Not these ones. These kids do not look hungry,” said the journalist.
I agreed. It is not the exact image that I had in mind, especially after driving through the drought stricken northern Kenyan, almost 300Km from Nairobi.
The roads are rough. The land is dry, almost scorched, devoid of pasture and green vegetation.
For miles we drove on without a sign of livestock, in a country occupied by pastoralists – Samburu and Turkana people. But as I came to understand, the warriors in these communities moved livestock afar, to protect them from drought in places where pasture can be found. They left behind their women, children, the old and the sick.
That is why we expected to find a disaster at Oldoinyo Nyiro. The government had declared the drought a national disaster and the media is running stories of distress from different parts of the country – of 2.7 million people who are in need of urgent humanitarian support.
We found families that are definitely in distress – especially with rivers and other water sources having dried up. Women are now walking longer distances to find water and feel less safe, because the warriors and husbands that protect them are not within the community. With livestock having moved away, milk is no longer available for children.
This was a day which ActionAid was delivering food to the community – so there were a lot of women and their children at the collection centre. We hoped to find a lot of malnourished kids – may be dying ones too.
We saw some malnourished children and stories of families having only meal in a day - stories of parents who are worried and praying for the rains. We heard stories of families separated by the difficulties caused by the drought for many months.
So, what’s going on here? Why has the situation here not bad as it is in other regions?
I learned that ActionAid has been working with this community for a number of years – building their capacity to withstand the shocks of natural disasters like drought. This involves an asset for food project that enables poor members of the community to build infrastructure like roads in exchange of food rations. Another one required the community to prepare gardens where they grow food crops when the rain comes.
These projects ensured that targeted families have a decent flow of food throughout the dry seasons. Women like Noonkishu that I met working on a garden that uses a technology called Zai Pits to grow beans and vegetables. The Zai pits is a system that enables people to grow crops in arid lands and deserts by harnessing rain water. Noonkishu and other women were preparing the garden hoping that it will rain in a few months.
“We are working because some day the rains will come,” Noonkishu told me. “Working here has kept us at home and we did not have to follow livestock that moved with the men. Our food comes from this work.”
It is a bit ironic to find people working on a field in preparation for the next planting season, in a situation where the drought has scattered the hopes of millions. Hope is it still alive here.
From village to another in this area, we found people working in exchange of food and this has kept them from falling into the brink of the disaster.
“We never want people that we support to go back to the same emergency over and over. That is why we look at short, medium and long term measures that strengthen communities,” said Clement Chesire, ActionAid’s Response Manager.
But this is not the case for thousands of families who have no such support like in Oldoinyiro or other areas where ActionAid works.