Hinterland Green

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Disaster Looms in East Africa as Effects of Drought Threaten Millions of People with Starvation

Across East Africa a drought is drying up rivers, grasslands, scorching crops and threatening millions of people with starvation. Kenya, which is the biggest and most robust economy in the region, has seen the rivers that feed its great game reserves dry up and electricity is now rationed in the cities because hydropower has been adversely impacted. According to recent media reports, it is in the semi-desert on the southern fringe of the Sahel zone where the most dramatic changes have been felt. Though droughts in this region are nothing new and herders' nomadic life led to the build up in the good years to pad the margins of life when the patchy rains failed, this way of life is now being threatened and even the camels are dying of thirst. This disaster, which is three years in the making, is on the verge of catching Kenya and the United Nations unprepared.
Across the north of Kenya competition for water, grazing land and surviving cattle has sparked ethnic conflict. Cattle raids were always a feature of nomadic cultures but as the battle for survival intensifies the death toll climbs. Sixty-five people have been killed in the Turkana region alone since January. Despite being a disaster three years in the making, the drought is in danger of catching Kenya and the UN unprepared. Failed harvests mean high food prices, the national government is crippled by infighting and corruption, and international aid groups have seen funding squeezed by the credit crunch. The food vouchers sustaining hundreds of Rendille families will run out in less than a fortnight as the Irish aid agency paying for them, Concern, has run out of money for the project. In the last week, other big organisations such as Oxfam and Cafod have launched emergency appeals. The UN has received less than half the £350m it has called for.

In reality no one can deliver the rain that is really needed. Leina Mpoke has been working to unravel the cycles of drought, local deforestation and global influences for the Kenya Climate Working Group. "The drastic changes we're experiencing cannot be explained by local activities," he says. "Across the southern Sahel we're seeing a huge trend." In the 1970s there was a major drought once in the decade. In the 1980s this quickened to once every seven years, in the 1990s, once every five years. At the beginning of this decade the rains failed every other season and what we now see is "perennial drought".

Marsabit mountain rises up from the semi-desert of northern Kenya to touch the clouds at nearly 2,000 metres. Its highland slopes have always offered respite from the heat and dust of the savannah. The mountain was known as "Saku" or mist, and its elevated forest sheltered elephants, kudus, lions and high altitude lakes. It is now home to climate refugees who have swollen the population to more than 40,000. Everything in town is coated in a choking layer of red dust, the two mountain lakes have dried to a green-black crust and rangers at the Marsabit National Park say that eight elephants have starved to death in recent months. Source:  The Independent
I recall the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s and remember seeing the suffering that was widespread in some areas. It literally brought tears to my eyes. We cannot allow history to repeat itself in this region.
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