Drought In The Horn Of Africa
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host: The U.N. says that drought in the Horn of Africa has left 10 million people in urgent need of food. Somalis who are also caught up in political strife have fled to camps in Kenya.
But Kenyans themselves are suffering, as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton learned on a trip to Northwest Kenya.
(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Welcome to Turkana country, where nomadic herders and their families live close to their livestock in the arid, dusty plains framed by dark hills in the distance. But there are virtually no animals within sight, except a handful of camels that takes off as a convoy of vehicles sweeps by.
Dozens of villagers sing to welcome a visiting delegation come to assess the effects of the drought in northern Kenya.
(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)
QUIST-ARCTON: This is Kapua village. It means, in the Turkana language, Land of Dust. All around is dust and sand. Hundreds of villagers have gathered and amongst them, an elderly man. He says that he has lived through many droughts. He's called Loruman Lobuin. His wife has died. He says his children have gone to the city. They've abandoned him. He says he's 70 years old, he looks much older. He's withered. He's incredibly lean. His ribs are sticking out. He says he's hungry and he's desperate.
LORUMAN LOBUIN: (Through Translator) Since the drought started, the people who could walk have migrated to urban centers. Now I've remained here and I'm just waiting for my death, because I don't have any food to eat here. There is no hope. There is no rain. My animals are all dead. I'm just waiting for my death. I'm just waiting to die.
TONY LAKE: Communities like this all across this whole region live on the edge. So it doesn't take very much to tip them over into such extreme circumstances as this.
QUIST-ARCTON: Tony Lake, the executive director of the United Nations' children's agency, UNICEF, says the Turkana in Kapua have suffered 10 straight years with poor or no rains.
LAKE: Let me emphasize, what we've been seeing on our television screens, and I've been very moved by the pictures, are the extreme circumstances people are facing in the refugee camps, as they stream across the border from Somalia. But in communities like this, which are getting much less attention, the situation is just as dire. And we simply have to do more.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
QUIST-ARCTON: Sitting on the sandy ground, some bearing the full force of the sun, others shaded by acacia trees, Kapua villagers share their concerns about the drought with the UNICEF chief. It's not only the elderly, like Old Man Lobuin, who lament the loss of their herds and the lack of food. Women are struggling to feed their children. Many youngsters in this region are suffering from varying degrees of malnutrition.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN CRYING)
QUIST-ARCTON: We've come to Lodwa District Referral Hospital. There are children in the wards with their mothers - severely malnourished children.
Susan Katiko is 32. She's brought her son, Aro Katiko. She says he's one-year-old. He is pin thin.
SUSAN KATIKO: (Through Translator) The drought now is a bit worse than the one in the 1980s. At that time, it was only malnutrition cases. But now, people are dying, animals are dying. It's all round, it affects everyone the whole environment. Like, it's not raining. Now it's everything and also the food distribution it's a bit not reliable.
QUIST-ARCTON: Maureen Awerit, a clinical officer at the main hospital in Lodwa, the capital of Turkana central district, is acting as interpreter. She describes the challenges they face caring for malnourished children.
MAUREEN AWERIT: It's so sad that sometimes you even lose some of them. We go home discouraged. Sometimes you're demoralized. We lost a child today, about eight months old, who had malnutrition. Yeah, it's so discouraging that after all we've done, we couldn't save the life because the child came from very far. And it's so challenging.
QUIST-ARCTON: The UNICEF chief, Tony Lake, says the situation is urgent.
LAKE: Now we're going to go another four to five months before there will be harvests and we all have a huge job ahead of us to help them survive.
QUIST-ARCTON: With drought gripping the Horn of Africa, villagers in Kapua, and tens of thousands of others, are appealing to their governments and international donors for more help.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Turkana, Northwest Kenya.
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