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Kenya food crisis: "We don’t intend to stop helping"

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Blog by Reshma Khan, Advocacy and Communications Assistant, CARE Kenya

I still remember the 1st of May 2011. His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, the President of Kenya, declared the ongoing drought a national disaster and called upon donors and well wishers to support the country in that difficult time. For the many Kenyans living in marginal areas, the failure of two successive rainy seasons had made access to water for their household, livestock and farming needs increasingly difficult. For pastoralists who already live in the harsh arid and semi-arid areas, this made their already difficult lives even harder. The situation then worsened, with the declaration of famine in parts of southern Somalia. More and more families fled the country, leading to an unprecedented influx of refugees to the Dadaab complex in Northern Kenya.

Dadaab refugee camps were created in 1991 to respond to the influx of Somali refugees fleeing the fall of their Government. Located some 80 kilometers from the border with Somalia, the three camps at Dadaab were originally built to house around 90,000 people. Today, they are home to over five times that number, mostly Somalis. Despite the severe overcrowding, CARE has continued to work in the camps over the past twenty years, providing much needed relief food, water, sanitation and hygiene to the refugees. When the influx peaked at over 1,000 new arrivals per day, CARE stepped up its programs to provide food, water and other relief items. Additionally, we continued with our gender and community development agenda, providing counseling to numerous gender-based violence survivors in the camps as well as operating schools with over 15,000 learners.

We also scaled up our work in North-Eastern Kenya. Cash-for-work projects provided families with a financial safety net that could assist in the purchase of food and other basic necessities. Our emergency livestock projects assisted with the prevention and treatment of diseases of livestock that survived as other livestock in other areas were dying. CARE teams also rehabilitated emergency water and sanitation facilities to assist local communities.

It was really encouraging to receive the full support of CARE International members, who readily sent us emergency staff from their head offices. These colleagues covered all sectors including water and sanitation, gender advisors, media and communications specialists and numerous other field experts. This support is much appreciated in such a crisis and mirrors the core of CARE’s vision: joining forces to help those in need.

“Building resilience, not dependency” Over the past six months, as the crisis has put the region’s most vulnerable populations in an even more precarious situation, CARE Kenya has been able to assist over 1 million of the most vulnerable pastoralists as well as refugees in Dadaab directly. While we are proud of this achievement, many challenges still remain. The security situation in North-Eastern Kenya and Dadaab has deteriorated in the past couple of months as the Kenyan Government and allies have sent troops to Somalia to engage the Al-Shabaab insurgents there. This has meant that our work in Dadaab has had to be limited to only life-saving activities, while our security measures in North-Eastern Kenya projects. But we don’t intend to stop what we are doing; aiming to defend dignity, fight poverty and provide basic life-saving assistance to those who need it most.

The approach we have taken is to ‘build resilience, don’t build dependency’. CARE recognizes that with climate change, population growth as well as rising food and oil prices, poor communities in the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya’s North-East and the Somali refugees need assistance that builds on their own capacity, skills and experience. The communities we work with are far from passive, helpless and dependent! We see this every day: In Dadaab, CARE is being supported by more than 2,200 refugee workers in managing food distributions, teaching children and creating community committees. In North Eastern Kenya, we are building local communities’ skills in managing water and other natural resources, in increasing financial service provision and financial literacy, and improving livestock market chains. We know that these crises are going to hit again, and we want to build peoples’ capacity to cope with the problems without asking for external assistance. This is how we can help defeat poverty and defend the dignity of those we work with.