Tuesday, June 06, 2006


MANDERA,KENYA mailto: dalahow2@yahoo.com

After watching thousands of their livestock die of hunger and thirst, pastoralists in Kenya's drought-stricken northeastern Mandera district now share their own meagre food rations with animals in a desperate effort to save a few.

"We share the same food with the cows," Sheikha Shuaib, a 38-year-old mother of 10 said on Tuesday as she boiled maize in a large aluminium container at Damasa village, 130 km south of Mandera town. Once ready, the bland meal would be shared between Shuaib's children and five calves whose mothers died in the drought.

"The situation is getting out of hand. The relief food we are getting is not enough," said Mahmud Mohammed Osman, the local chief of Damasa.
While Damasa's entire population of about 5,700 people are in need of food aid, only 60 percent had received rations during the past two months, he said.

The parched fields around Damasa are littered with carcasses of cattle, goats, sheep and even camels, the most drought-resistant animals in the Horn of Africa region.

"Forget about the animals. They are going to die. What will become of the people?" remarked Barrey Ali, a 45-year-old mother of eight.
"Last week, I received a ration of 5 kg of maize and 5 kg of rice. I redistributed 5 kg of the food to relatives and neighbours who had got nothing. The food that remained lasted three days," said Barrey, who has taken to hawking tea in the local market to feed her family.

She complained that meagre food rations were straining relationships between people because those who were not on the ration dole thought that those who were lucky enough to receive some food should share it.

"The government needs to increase the food aid. Currently it is just like scattering a few grains among many chickens," she said.

Sahal Mohammed, an official with the Emergency Pastoralist Assistance Group, a nongovernmental organisation that is distributing food in the area, said the targeted population in Damasa had increased recently.

"The problem is that everybody is in need, but only 60 percent are targeted for distribution, as per a decision taken by the Kenya Food Security Group, which conducted a survey here in January," he said.

"The estimates at the time of planning were based on the 1999 census, yet the numbers have changed. Many more people have become vulnerable."


Along Mandera's dusty roads, desperate women and children flag down motorists to beg for water. Some NGO'S are delivering some water using tanks, but it is inadequate.

At times it is too late for livestock.
Last week, when a tanker delivered water to people and livestock at Jabi Bar village in central Mandera after a 10-day interval, 375 goats belonging to 24 families died in one day, apparently because they drank too much water.

"They [the goats] had been weakened by hunger and thirst. They overdrank and started collapsing one by one," said Hussein Mohammed, a herder who lost several goats.
Rotting carcasses lay scattered where the animals fell.

"People are running around trying to look for water. Food aid is absolutely necessary, so is water," said Kelly Delaney, a senior nutritionist nurse at a therapeutic feeding centre in Mandera District Hospital.

Fifty babies and toddlers at various stages of malnutrition and hunger-related illness were admitted at the centre, which is run by Action Against Hunger.

Last week, the United Nations special humanitarian envoy for the Horn of Africa, Kjell Magne Bondevik, warned that many people in the drought-hit region could die unless donors released funds quickly.

On 8 February, the Kenyan government, UN agencies and NGOs appealed for US $245 million to help an estimated 3.5 million people, including 500,000 children who are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance in 25 districts.

Speaking during the launch of the appeal in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, John Munyes, the minister of state for special programmes, said the districts hardest-hit by the drought were in the arid and semi-arid northern, northeastern and eastern regions.

According to the UN World Food Programme, the situation resulted from the failure of the October-December 2005 short rains in the north and very erratic and patchy rains in the east. The impact was compounded because people had lost their ability to cope after years of drought in some regions.