Famine hits Kenya's Turkana District

by Charles Maingi - Communications
Children and adults in Kalokol Division, in Kenya's Turkana District, are going without food for days and many of them are able to keep alive only by feeding on the nut of the wild palm tree.

As a result of the lack of food, people's health is fast deteriorating and some children are already severely malnourished.

One such severely malnourished baby is eight-month-old Aurien Ekitela from Natole village. The baby's blind mother, Sarah Amekwi, sorrowfully says, "I am worried that my baby might die of hunger. I am breastfeeding her, but I do not have milk because I have no food to eat."

Amekwi has a good reason to be worried. Her severely malnourished baby has been having diarrhea for several days now and her condition is worsening day by day. Life is extremely difficult for Amekwi. She is her family's sole breadwinner. Her husband is sick and bed ridden with a sickness that according to Amekwi, has refused to go away.

Esther Nayanae, an elderly grandmother also from Natole village says, "There are days we go without food in my home where I live with my husband and our two-year-old grandchild. It happens so often these days that my stomach has hardened and is able to resist hunger."

Nayanae says that for several days she has not eaten ugali (a common dish made from maize flour cooked in water) or any other "real food" and that she has been feeding on the duom (the wild palm) nut. She explains that if the nut is consumed in large quantities or over a long period, it causes diarrhea.

Her story of hunger is shared by many other residents of Natole village and Kalokol Division in general.

Ironically, Kalokol lies next to Lake Turkana, one of Kenya's major sources of fish. However, merchants who sell fish in towns such as Kakuma, Kitale and Kisumu, which are hundreds of kilometers away, quickly buy the fish that is available in Lake Turkana. People living around the lake watch as the fish is transported away, but there is nothing they can do since they do not have money to purchase some.

Nayanae explains that when rains come, fish is easily available and she is able to buy some with the little money she gets from the sale of the baskets she makes. But during a drought such as the current one, there is less fish available and the prices are too high for her.

She has been hoping and praying that her family would receive relief food aid during these hard times, but now she is getting worried for the aid does not seem to be forthcoming.

For Nayanae, her family and the residents of Turkana District, the food had better come now, before lives are lost.

A World Vision nutrition survey in northwest Kenya has found malnutrition rates of 30 percent in some areas. World Vision is urgently negotiating with the Kenya government to provide food for those worst off. World Vision Canada has already committed 10% of the ADP budget to the emergency. Unicef is also assessing possibilities of partnering with agencies like World Vision, CCF, and Oxfam to intervene in the most affected parts of the district.