02/04/2012 – The worst drought to affect the Horn of Africa in 60 years is now behind us, but hunger is yet to depart. Most of the Horn region received good rains towards the end of 2011, giving some much needed respite.
Water is now readily available. Grass and shrubs are sprouting again. The few animals that survived the drought now have some food and will soon regain their health and productivity.
But this recovery may only be temporary unless the underlying causes of high vulnerability to natural shocks are addressed. This is why it is too early for the herders in Laghboghol village in northern Kenya, to celebrate.
Adow Aden, 81, has just returned to this village 60 kilometres south of Wajir city. He left eight months ago for Wajir town when drought conditions became unbearable. “I sought help from my relatives in Wajir town. It [drought] was bad,” he says.
“I lost 12 strong female camels in the drought; only eight survived,” he says. “I still cannot feed my family of six. I stay here and wait for food donations while my sons bring the remaining animals to graze in a field about 20 kilometres from here.”
Adow does not like being confined to his hut, but he is yet to regain strength. “If my camels were producing milk, I’d be out there in the field,” he says. A camel gestates for 13 months. A few in his reduced herd have conceived, but Adow knows he is a long way from tasting the milk that is his source of strength.
Aid agencies and government programmes continue doling out cereals to the neediest families. Thankfully field posts are recording much lower rates of new cases of malnutrition, nevertheless the referral centre at the Wajir District hospital has a handful of newly admitted children.
Arfon Hassan is one of the mothers with a child in the ward for the malnourished. Her 2-year old girl Halima Hassan is suffering from Kwashiorkor, a protein deficiency condition whose main symptom is a severely swollen abdomen.
Arfon does not understand what caused her child’s illness.
“I breastfed her while pregnant with my second baby, but I lost the pregnancy through a miscarriage. I continued breastfeeding and that is when Halima’s stomach started swelling.”
Speaking in Nairobi, Isabelle D’Haudt, European Commission’s humanitarian expert overseeing the programme in Kenya says that the situation across northern Kenya and in many parts of the Horn of Africa, is still fragile.
“The problem is not the drought itself but the pervasive underdevelopment; that is the root cause of the suffering experienced in the Horn of Africa countries in 2011. Protracted conflicts and reduced humanitarian access in places such as Somalia further complicate the crisis,” says Isabelle.
Overall, poor development, or the total lack of development, leaves numerous families exposed to hazards including unfavourable climatic conditions. “This is a poor population that has very little access to basic services such as education, healthcare, nutritive foods, or clean drinking water. Any external shock such as a drought or flooding; however small it is, will put lives in great danger,” says Isabelle.
Emergency help will keep herders such as Adow going, but not for long.
Without concerted efforts between emergency aid and development work, poor families across the Horn of Africa may soon be grappling with the devastating effects of yet another drought; kicking off yet another massive aid operation to save lives.
This cycle can be broken.
By Martin Karimi