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A Community Battles Drought in Kenya

Usually when schools in Kenya are closed, children spend their time playing and running around with their siblings and friends, before being called home for a meal.

But this school break is different. Children in this community in Kilifi County are spending their time listlessly sitting under trees. They are depressed and weak due to lack of food. Most families can only afford one meal a day since drought took hold of the country following low rainfall last year.

The next rainy season won’t begin until April.

On February 10, the government declared a national drought emergency, with 23 of 47 counties affected. The number of food insecure people has more than doubled – from 1.3 million to 2.7 million.

Plan International has been working in Kenya to provide urgent food supplies and lifesaving humanitarian support to children and families affected by the drought. Plan is also supplying families with jerry cans and water purification tablets.

To identify malnourished children, Plan conducts screening for children under 5 years old through Community Health Volunteers and refers cases of malnutrition for appropriate treatment, including supplementary and therapeutic feeding.

Children have been too weak from malnourishment to attend school.

“I largely depend on farming to feed my children,” said Peter, the father of six children. “I farm maize, cowpeas, and cassava annually. This year, all crops failed due to lack of rain. I am now forced to depend on manual labor to feed my family, which is not guaranteed. I also sell firewood as a source of income.”

“My children are suffering. Sometimes we lack food for more than a day. If they eat at night but have no breakfast, then they don’t want to go to school. They missed school for three days every week last term. I cannot force them to go school when they are hungry and weak,” he said.

Thirteen-year-old Juma, Peter’s son, goes to the local primary school.

“I have missed school more than once a week since second term due to lack of food. Sometimes I am too weak to go. Before this, I would carry lunch to school but now this is not possible at all. We don’t have enough to spare.”

Families in Kenya have been struggling to provide their children with food.

The lack of water is most keenly felt by women in Kilifi, as they are traditionally the family water gatherers.

“This watering hole once had plenty of clean water for drinking and household use,” said Kache. “It also had fish that we would catch for eating. Now the fish are dying and the water is dirty, but we are left with no option but to use it,” says Kache.

“To get clean water, we have to walk to a watering hole upstream, which takes a long time,” said Habiba. “Sometimes we spend the night there and have to light bonfires in order to keep warm.”

The watering hole is a vital lifeline for this community. The men and women who come here sink into the slimy mud, risking injuries in order to collect water. Dead fish lie scattered along the shore, a clear indication that the water is contaminated and a health hazard for human consumption.

The next rainy season in Kenya will not begin until April of 2017.

A disabled father of 16 children, Daniel is holding a traditional party for friends and relatives to meet his newborn child. What would normally be a joyous occasion is markedly different as his visitors sit quietly under a tree.

“I moved my family to this community many years ago,” he said. “Back then, this was the best place to buy land and live. We had pineapples, cassava, and coconut growing freely on my land.

“We have had several dry seasons before but nothing like this. This has exceeded everything we have known. Even if I were to move my family again because of this drought, I don’t know where we would go. Everywhere is dry now. Most families around here survive on one meal a day and the children have missed school for several days since second term.”

Lack of an income has made it difficult for Daniel to support his family. Without money, it’s hard to buy food and water. When the rain falls, he does not have to worry so much about feeding his large family as his harvest is plentiful.

He recently received a delivery of food aid from Plan.

“This has put [a] smile on my family’s face, if only for a short time,” he said. “We thank all of you who thought of us.”

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