Drought in rural Kenya has resulted in a lack of food and water, but has also caused violence, uprooted communities, and disrupted the education and lives of young people.
A prolonged drought has crippled agriculture production in rural Kenya, greatly affecting millions of families who rely on farming, fishing or herding. As in rural communities elsewhere in Africa, when disasters and hardships hit, young people are often the most susceptible to problems.
The entire Horn of Africa has been prone to dry periods over the previous decades, but this spell, which some blame on a variety of environmental issues, is particularly harsh. An estimated 100,000 cattle have died in Kenya due to lack of water, and Kenya’s government estimates 10 million people face food shortages. Malnuitrution is a worry as are diseases stemming from dirty drinking water.
From Gorta, the Ireland-based Hunger organization, here is a short video discussing how one family is adapting to the conditions in the Rift Valley, one of the most effected regions.
The drought has forced herders to leave their homes in search of water and food for their animals. “In most cases this means vulnerable women, children and the elderly are left behind to fend for themselves in the villages,” writes Ebby Nanzala Wamatsi for the blog Women News Network. Young people can be left to tend the dry fields, but if random rains arrive, they can create the vicious cycle of providing water, but may also wash out crops, warns the Kenyan Daily Nation newspaper.
Threat of violence
Problems also arise if entire families pull up stakes. With so many people leaving their traditional hunting and feeding grounds can create conflict as pastoralists venture into territories traditionally used by other groups, heightening tensions. Poaching, cattle rustling and banditry are on the rise, worrying people as attackers use ever-sophisticated weapons. An estimated 400 people died in 2009 due to violence, reported the blog Kenya Watch.
A particularly horrific massacre took place in September at a village named Kanampiu in the Rift Valley when 35 locals, including women and children, were slain by marauders.
Out-migration of the area also forces children out of schools, making it difficult for them to return. Education level is an important barometer for future income earning. For children attending schools in the Rift Valley, in the northern part of Kenya, a local doesn’t hold out much hope. “Many children, more than 1,000 from the Baragoi area [in Samburu] have moved with their parents and they will not be going back to school soon,” said Joseph Leparua of the Samburu Community Development Support to an IRIN News reporter.
To make matters worse, the school canteen is sometimes the only place where children are guaranteed a meal, according to a CBBC story.
Outside of the food security and personal safety issues brought on by the drought, young people also have to worry about rebuilding their communities. Faith Akiru, a woman who works in Kenya with the US-based development group Catholic Relief Services (CRS), grew up amongst the pastoralist Turkanas in a village of 1,000 in northwestern Kenya. She speaks, on the website of the CRS, of how the drought has affected her village.
Because of Kenya’s long drought, animals can no longer support our daily needs, leaving my family and other Turkana villagers extremely vulnerable. We suffered drought when I was growing up, and I remember going hungry for several days. We’d go to the river to pick wild fruits and plants. These plants have a very bitter taste, so we’d camp there to boil them until the bitterness left. About once a year, we would also receive relief food.
Now drought is harder to survive because livestock raiding is increasing. People are using guns for raiding, making it harder to protect our herds. My family isn’t doing so good. I send them money, but even if they can use it to get food, all the people around them are hungry. It’s a bit uncomfortable for them to eat when all of the others around them are hungry, and I can’t send enough to feed everyone.
She points out that as an educated woman earning an income, she feels a duty to give back to her community by helping younger girls cope with the intricacies of modern life.
I have a lot of responsibility. There is a lot for me to do back in my village. Five girls from Morulem have graduated from eighth grade and gone on to high school. I’m the only one who managed to finish, and I’m now the only girl with a college degree in the village.
I feel I’m a role model. I need to have a good job so when I go back to my village they can see how my education has changed my life. I talk to the young girls in Morulem about the importance of education and help them learn about different careers. And I tell them that just like any other human being, they can go to school and live a better life than they are now. Part of my responsibility is to also fight against early and forced marriages that lead many girls to become young mothers of children they can’t support.
This post was originally posted at Global Voices on January 13, 2009.
I am a singer/songwriter and Global Voices author currently residing in the Pacific.