Figure 1: One of the dry river beds that serves as a waterpoint shared for both livestock and human in Turkana County (Photo by UN Women/ Kennedy Okoth)
It is 11:00 AM and 33 degrees as we leave Lodwar Town in the heart of Turkana County headed to Nakata Pan approximately 7 KM away. I am accompanied by Mrs. Susan Aletia the Gender Advisor to Turkana County. 20 minutes into our drive we take a detour into the vast bare land with no clear defined roads for another 45 minutes where we arrive at a small community. As we approach we spot little children seeking refuge from the scorching heat under scattered almost dry trees.
On the horizon of the dust of Turkana County, appears a faint figure balancing a water pot on her head. As the figure draws closer, you can make two more people walking alongside her. As she draws closer, the coloured beads on her neck are now visible hanging loosely around her neck. She enters her homestead and spots us, she beckons her older daughter to assist her unload the water pot from her head.
”Welcome to Loturerei,” she says extending her hand. ”I am Paulina Epung’u, and this this is my home. I hope the sun wasn’t too harsh on you.”
Turkana County is one of the arid areas of Kenya hard hit by the on-going drought in the Horn of Africa that affects 2.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.
Up to three consecutive years of poor rains have diminished food production and exhausted people’s coping capacities, while chronic and intensifying pasture and water related conflicts in the region have driven up displacement. With the latest forecasts indicating below- to near-average rains in the region, the number of people severely food insecure is expected to rise further to 4 million people.
“This is my routine three times a day,” she narrates. “I have to fetch water for our use and for the goats and sheep too as they are too weak to even move. On a good day we get water from a solar water pump about a kilometre from here. The pump serves the whole of this area so it is always crowded and you have to wait for more than 30 minutes and hope that the sun does not set while you wait as the water will go too. But whenever the pump breaks down, which happens often, we now have to dig along the dry river beds for remnants of light showers…that is where am from now.”
Scarce water resource has severely undermined livestock production – a mainstay of livelihoods in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands, which have been hardest hit by the drought. There is clear evidence of a link between decreasing forage availability for livestock and a rise in malnutrition among children, emphasizing the critical importance of keep breeding or milking animals alive and productive.
She tells us that as a result of the drought the workload as women has increased. “We have to now walk longer distances to fetch water for domestic use and also for the livestock and also fetch wild fruits for the goats as they are weak now and cannot even move. It is hard as you have to shake the trees to gather the fruits which is tiresome and barely enough. I had to pull my daughter out of school to assist as I could not even afford the school fee.”
Approximately 10 kilometres from Loturerei is Nakata Pan where we meet Akidor Lopunga Nangiro, an elderly woman living with her two children, daughter-in-law and 4 grandchildren. The effects of the drought are clear as we approach her hut, where the carcass of a goat lies.
She can barely recall the last time they had meaningful rain. “We just have light showers that disappear immediately. This is worse as we rely on livestock which are now dying, if you had come yesterday you would have found two goats that just died. You can see the carcass outside there.”
Figure 2: A carcass of a goat lies outside Akidor”s house in Loturrerei as a result of the drought (Photo by UN Women/ Kennedy Okoth)
It is now midday and I ask whether there is any food for the children, her response is heart-breaking. “We have had to develop coping mechanism if we are to stay alive. We don’t have anything for lunch and even in the evening it depends. If we get it fine if we don’t we will still sleep. Whenever we wake up, we do not anticipate any meal, on a good day we have single meal.” We are desperate and not sure of our survival. This drought will finish our livestock and eventually all of us if nothing is done.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 42 percent of households in Turkana report skipping days without food.
On 10 Feb 2017, the National Government declared the drought a National Disaster prompting the United Nations in Kenya to launch the US$165.8 Million drought appeal. According to the UN OCHA US$54.5 Million of the US$165.8m funding requested for the appeal has been received so far from development partners and UN Agencies.
UN Women is working with National Drought Management Authority NDMA, to ensure that all the interventions take into considerations the levels of vulnerabilities of women and children through capacity building.
The funding appeal is meant to respond to the emergency situation through an inter-sectoral approach. Livelihood interventions are not only essential to prevent destitution, poverty and acute malnutrition, but also effectively improve long and short term nutrition and save lives. Rapid provision of animal feed and water, as well as animal health programmes, combined with timely purchase of animals for slaughter destocking will protect core breeding herds while providing a critical source of protein to communities’ most vulnerable members and injecting financial resources into local markets.
As the sun sets and we depart for Lodwar, my uttermost desire is that through these interventions, we are able to restore hope to the women and children of Nakata Pan. I leave with a much stronger dedication knowing that these women have bestowed their survival hopes on us.