Drought Threatens Millions in Horn of Africa In the Horn of Africa, a drought is killing livestock across a wide swath of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. The United Nations estimates that more than 6 million people in the region are at risk of running out of food and water as a result of the drought if aid doesn't arrive soon.
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Drought Threatens Millions in Horn of Africa

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Drought Threatens Millions in Horn of Africa

Drought Threatens Millions in Horn of Africa

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News, I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. The United Nations estimates that more than six million people are at risk of running out of food and water in eastern Africa if aid does not arrive soon. A drought is killing livestock across a wide swath of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia.

NPR's Jason Beaubien has this story from Wajir in Northeastern Kenya.

JASON BEAUBIEN reporting:

There's a certain smell here. As you approach any village or town in this part of Kenya at the moment, you get hit with this odor, and it's the odor of rotting flesh. Sort of a musty smell of animals that have been left to rot in the sun. Mainly it's cows and donkeys that have died of thirst. Some of them have been piled up into heaps where they're picked over by crows and marabou storks. But throughout the air you smell what's happening here: animals are dying in droves and their bodies are a testament to the incredible drought that is sweeping the entire Horn of Africa.

Even camels are collapsing because of the lack of food and water. Abdul Vakahd(ph) and eight other men are attempting to revive a camel that's lying in the sand. The animal can't get to her feet, and the nearest functioning water hole is miles away. Vakahd says the camel has laid down to die.

ABDUL VAKAHD: The animal is really weak. It's because of hunger that is suffering. We are trying to assist it to wake up, to stand up so it can walk.

BEAUBIEN: They've put two wooden poles under the camel and they're trying to lift her, but each time she starts to stand, she quickly topples back into the powdery dry dirt. Historically, the only people who've managed to survive in this arid part of Africa are nomadic herders. They follow the rains and move their goats, sheep, cattle and camels across vast areas of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. When the rains come, the plains sprout carpets of green grass, but last year this part of Kenya got only two inches of rainfall, and the year before it was also hit with drought. Now the plains are long stretches of dirt interrupted at times by leafless thorn bushes.

According to Oxfam, 70 percent of the cattle and sheep in the region have died since December, along with 20 percent of the donkeys and goats. This in an area where people rely almost entirely on the meat and milk of their livestock to survive.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

At the Central Hospital in Wajir, the number of severely malnourished children admitted to the pediatric unit has doubled in March from 12 a week to 25.

Ms. MARIA SHARIF SERAT(ph): (Speaking Somali)

BEAUBIEN: Maria Sharif Serat brought her granddaughter, Nasraf, here 10 days ago. The two-year-old Nasraf isn't fairing well. She weighs only 14 pounds. Her arms and legs are rail thin, her ribs and collarbone protrude from her chest. Her grandmother says it's because the family has nothing to eat.

Ms. SERAT: (Speaking Somali)

BEAUBIEN: We used to have camels, but they died, she says. We used to have goats, but they all died, too, and now we rely on relief food from the aid agencies.

These were Maria Sharif Serat's last hours with her granddaughter. Two-year-old Nasraf died the next day.

So far this drought in the Horn of Africa hasn't turned into a famine like the one that killed thousands of kids last year in Niger, and aid agencies are attempting to keep it that way. The U.N.'s World Food Program is trying to raise more than $200 million to feed six million people in the region. However, the WFP says it's only raised 25 percent of what it needs to feed drought victims as well as refugees who've been living for years in camps in northern Kenya.

Magdalen Nandawula with Oxfam in Wajir says the land in this remote part of Africa is too dry for agriculture even in the best years. She says the loss of hundreds of thousands of animals as a result of the drought has devastated the entire economy.

Ms. MAGDALEN NANDAWULA (Humanitarian Project Manager, Oxfam): This is a very harsh environment and the only sort of thing to survive on is livestock, and we're talking of real pastoralism. You know, mobile sort of pastoralism. And if you have no pasture, if you have no water, that means that definitely the animals can't survive. And that means that even for the future, this economy's down.

BEAUBIEN: Even if the long rains come in April it will take people months, even years, to rebuild their herds. The World Food Program expects millions of people here to be dependent on international food aid at least for the coming year.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News Wajir, Kenya.

BLOCK: A gallery of images from the East African drought, including a photo of Nasraf before she died, is our website, NPR.org.

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