Marsabit District in Northern Kenya was one of several districts affected by a period of prolonged drought that covered almost the entire Horn of Africa. For the third year, rainfall had been below average or non-existent. The traditional coping mechanisms of the predominantly pastoralist communities failed as livestock starved or moved away to other areas where some pasture remained. The people of North Horr and Loyangalani, two very remote divisions within this vast arid district, were particularly hard-hit by the crisis.
In response, the Government of Kenya and the World Food Programme initiated the distribution of essential food. While this saved the general population from starvation, a MEDAIR survey revealed that malnutrition rates were as high as 43% global (using z-score) among young children.
MEDAIR therefore initiated a feeding programme specifically targeted at malnourished children below 5 years of age, to supplement the handout of the general food rations (photos). In four centres, over 300 children were admitted according to their nutritional status. Daily, they received a cooked portion of UNIMIX, a highly nutritious porridge. The health and nutritional status of the children was carefully monitored to ensure they continued to gain weight.
In order to prevent an increase of malnutrition among all other children, MEDAIR assisted in the distribution of dry UNIMIX rations to over 5,000 children. In both cases, food was donated by WFP/UNICEF. A targeted hygiene programme predominantly for children, their mothers aimed to lower the incidence of diarrhoeal disease, as this would greatly aggravate the effects of malnutrition.
MEDAIR also became involved in the monitoring of the general food distribution on request of several other (UN) agencies involved in the relief operation. The data showed a continuing improving trend, as the distribution of relief food took effect. MEDAIR facilitated the field communications and transport of local monitors to the many remote distribution sites and liased with the community based Relief Committees. This ensured the fair distribution of huge quantities of maize, oil, pulses and UNIMIX to over 60,000 people.
During the last months of 2000 the drought lessened with several heavy rains. The deserts of Marsabit turned green and increasing numbers of livestock returned to the area. This event coincided with diminishing admissions to the feeding centres, as the health of children continued to improve and food became more widely available.
MEDAIR thus reduced programme activities after surveys had revealed that malnutrition rates had dropped by as much as 22%. However in Kargi the malnutrition rate was still worryingly high. Tearfund, agreed to continue the feeding programme there as they were already operating in the area.
The project closed at the end of February. A total of 8 expatriate volunteers (from 5 countries) and over 25 Kenyan staff were involved at different times during this project.