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Wild fruits to the rescue: Surviving Kenya’s deadly drought

Chepochemuma Raphael, 35, is a worried woman. She is worried about tomorrow.

The last few months have been one sad moment after another. It started with flash floods from the highlands that swept away most of her crop along Swam River. Then the scorching sun arrived – burning everything, making her life near impossible in Simatwa village, Kongelai, West Pokot County, Kenya.

The lack of food in the area is so severe that the mothers of 8, together with many other families have turned to anything edible in wild as the only source of food.

“I am worried of tomorrow because there is high competition for wild fruits and vegetables. If help doesn’t come through any time soon, we might die of hunger,” said Chepochemuna.

Yet, she does not sit around and wait to die of hunger. Chepochemuna has taken to washing clothes for people in her village who are able to pay her. She also sells firewood to make sure three of her older children stay in school.  As she collects firewood for sale, she also collects wild fruits that will be the food for the rest of the family.

The children in school are lucky to have free lunch provided by the government and the World Food Programme. And that is their only meal of the day and their mother is not worrying about them because their siblings are worse off - barely having meaningful meals.

It is surely hard times for most families here – most have lost their livestock to previous droughts and still trying to recover, others have had their crops fail due to extreme weather condition. It is as if fate is working against all their efforts.

The government of Kenya has just declared an emergency on the drought situation and called for international help to ensure that the 2.7 million people in various parts of the country get some kind of humanitarian assistance.

Due to the drought, ActionAid has recorded women and girls walking up to 70 per cent further in search of water, with some walking more than nine kilometres in a day.

This situation is likely to be exacerbated by the fact that rainfall is not expected up to around April and it will take another two months or so after it has rained for the situation to normalize.

“As a result of the drought women and girls face a triple burden in some cases: to survive, care for their families and evade sexual violence in the process.  Urgent action is needed to avert starvation, sexual violence and community breakdown,” ActionAid’s Policy Manager in Kenya, Ruth Masime.

An estimated population of 179,467 are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in areas where ActionAid operates in Kenya. These areas include Isiolo, Baringo, Kilifi, West Pokot and Garissa counties. The regions of Makueni, Kajiado, Taita Taveta, Embu and Kitui could also drop to acute food insecurity in coming weeks if no appropriate intervention is done.

ActionAid is intervening in different parts of Kenya to deliver food and water to the most vulnerable. It is also training communities to keep their government accountable during the delivery of emergency assistance.