Horn of Africa — Rain for Some, Hunger for Most
As an estimated 13 million people continue suffering the effects of a historic drought in the Horn of Africa, the fall rains have given hope to some farmers in the region.
The October 2011 rains in parts of Kenya allowed farming communities to plant fields in anticipation of a harvest in January or February. Other areas remained dry during the normal time for rains. The food security outlook for the coming months depends largely on the extent of rains between now and December, say the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET). Rainfall is expected to be normal to above normal but will lessen toward the end of the season in south Somalia, south and southeast Ethiopia, and northeast Kenya.
Despite the rain, water supplies dangerously low
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has been providing emergency aid in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya as food shortages continue, in cooperation with our ecumenical partner Church World Service (CWS) and fellow ACT Alliance members and also in cooperation with the PC(USA)'s mission partner, the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK).
The 2010–2011 drought is the worst to hit many parts of the Horn of Africa since 1950 and has created enormous challenges. Food prices have skyrocketed. Those who cannot afford food suffer the effects of malnutrition whether they live in urban slums or remote, rural districts.
Pastures turn to desert
In northwestern Kenya the drought has extended a series of dry years that may be a sign of climate change. The Turkana people of this region historically graze cattle and other livestock, but many of their once fertile pastures have turned into deserts. Some Turkana now raise crops where water is available, but the drought sharply decreased the harvest this year.
The NCCK has been delivering emergency food aid to families in the Nakaalei area of Turkana. When the rains returned to some areas of Turkana, Nakaalei remained very dry, says NCCK coordinator for the North Rift Valley, Raphael Lokol. "Most trees are leafless, and livestock have nothing to feed on," he says.
Paulina Napitau, a Turkana woman in a desertified area near Kalapata, lost her 40 goats to drought, disease and banditry. She and her six children subsisted on wild fruits and occasional food deliveries from the Kenya government, which lasted only a day or two. Several of her neighbors died of hunger.
NCCK delivered food to Napitau's community in October. However, perennial challenges remain in a community severely affected by water scarcity. "Every year, there is no rain," Napitau says.
One of the ways PDA has responded is through supporting the building of sand dams. A sand dam is a simple low wall constructed of concrete built across seasonal riverbeds. It captures sand carried in torrid river water during the short intense rainy seasons. Once trapped, the water seeps into the sand beneath, where people can access it by digging a shallow well. The dams are so efficient that even one or two rainfalls can provide enough water to last months. When mature, the stored water rehydrates local aquifers, thus making it available during the time of need.
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is a member of ACT Alliance, a global alliance of churches and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies worldwide. Learn more about how PDA works with ACT.