Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Drought: 11 Million People in Need of Assistance

CARE Steps Up Emergency Relief in Northeastern Kenya
Nairobi, Kenya (January 11, 2006) — As the drought in the Horn of Africa worsens, CARE International is responding to the appeal of the Kenyan government to bring relief to an estimated 2.5 million people.

In the Northeastern Province, CARE is working in the Garissa district and will soon be starting operations in the Mandera district, two of the most affected areas of the country.

CARE is focusing on ensuring access to food and water, the most basic lifesaving interventions.

"In Garissa alone we are distributing food to approximately 53,000 drought affected people," says Mohammed Qazillbash, senior program manager for CARE in Kenya.

"When it comes to water, our main challenge is to keep boreholes operating. Increased usage is making the boreholes run almost 24 hours a day, a situation that leads to frequent breakdowns."

Since there are no permanent water sources in the area, 90 percent of the water needs of the most vulnerable people come from these boreholes. CARE staff cautions that transporting water to remote areas and storing it is also problematic.

Since many communities are located far away from boreholes, water transport is critical but fuel is expensive and in short supply, causing significant slowdowns. Clean jerry cans are also needed to reduce the use of contaminated containers.

"The situation is likely to worsen during the dry spell expected for the rest of January up until mid March," says Qazillbash. "The effects of the drought on people's lives are devastating and not always visible.

In Garissa, for instance, school enrollment is lower than expected, and of those who have enrolled, 80 percent have not been able to pay school fees, a clear indication that poverty is rising and people are struggling."

Many pastoral families are losing their animals, their primary source of livelihoods, to the drought. The loss of these assets depletes family resources and eliminates an important source of nutrition, particularly for women and children.

Nutritional support is critical and CARE is planning to boost its response capacity over the coming months. In collaboration with other agencies, CARE expects to set up therapeutic feeding centers in Garissa and to implement more comprehensive water and sanitation activities in both Garissa and Mandera districts.

Regrettably, after a year of unprecedented natural disasters around the world, donors may be short of cash.

Funding to respond to the current drought in the Horn of Africa is slow to come, and global media attention is still at a minimum. "Delays in filling funding gaps may result in more loss of human life, especially as the drought worsens in the coming months," says Bud Crandall, country director for CARE in Kenya.

"The isolation of the affected areas in Kenya also means higher communication and transport costs, an additional deterrent in implementing a rapid response."

But Kenya is not alone in facing this tragedy. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that an estimated 11 million people in the Horn of Africa are on "the brink of starvation."

Somalia, Djibouti and Ethiopia are also affected and face severe drought as a result of seasonal rain failure. CARE's Rural Food Security Program in Somalia is assisting roughly 650,000 people with food in the short term, but also focusing on livelihood rehabilitation in the longer term. In the affected areas of Ethiopia, specifically in the Borana Zone, also a pastoral area, CARE is addressing both short- and long-term needs.

"The pastoral areas that rely on the November rains are in a dire situation," says Dan Maxwell, CARE's deputy regional director for East and Central Africa. "If the livestock losses increase, recovery in pastoral areas throughout the Horn of Africa will take longer and will make people even more vulnerable to the inevitable next drought."

CARE urges the international community to focus on diversifying the livelihood of pastoralists and other vulnerable groups in non-drought periods so that communities at risk have systems to better cope with natural disasters.

CARE's emergency unit carried out a rapid assessment of the Northeastern Province drought situation with representatives from the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and Food for Peace from January 4-8.

The findings revealed a grim situation and have prompted key agencies to implement a rapid emergency response. Heribert Scharrenbroich, chairman of CARE Germany and former German MP, are scheduled to arrive in Kenya on January 11 and to travel to the affected areas over the coming days.

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