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Falling behind: In Kenya, drought threatens children’s education and dims their hopes

© UNICEF/HQ06-0021/Cameron
At lunchtime, children stand in line with various containers at Bangale Primary School in the Tana River District of Kenya. Most of the children save food to share later with their families.

By Thomas Nybo

RIFT VALLEY PROVINCE, Kenya, 30 May 2006 –  The drought crippling the Horn of Africa is particularly dangerous for children. Besides the immediate threat of malnutrition and dehydration, their future is at risk because so many boys and girls are being forced to drop out of school.

In the case of Eunice Malipe, 17, the drought killed all of her family's 500 head of cattle here in northeastern Kenya. Even though the rains finally arrived last month, it was too late. With the death of the last cow, any means of paying her school fees vanished.

“I feel so much pain because my friends from school have finished their exams and moved on,” she says. “I'm stuck at home and nobody is helping me. Nobody knows my pain. Sometimes I go three days with no food."  Eunice spends long days cleaning, gathering firewood and preparing what little food the family can find. Across the Horn of Africa, there are countless children facing a similar plight. Dropping out of school is common for children in all of the Horn countries – not only Kenya, but also Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.

Providing water to schools

Like Eunice, most children in the affected region come from pastoralist communities that depend on livestock for survival. When drought hits, their families often pick up and move great distances in search of water and grazing land. Even in less extreme instances, children must often spend all day leading animals to local water sources.

Many schools in drought-stricken areas shut down because their wells run dry. As reflected in its $80 million funding appeal for emergency help in the Horn of Africa, UNICEF is focusing much-needed attention on these schools. The appeal was launched on 15 May along with a multimedia report, 'Child Alert: Crisis in the Horn of Africa'.

“Most of the intervention is in terms of providing water to the schools, since most of the schools are located in areas without permanent water sources,” says UNICEF Education Officer Elias Jama Noor. 

Help is within reach

Back at home with Eunice, even the family dog appears emaciated and only a few days away from death. Inside a small hut, tending a fire, Eunice cries when she thinks about what tomorrow might bring. 

"The future looks dark," she says. "I cannot see anything coming. There is no hope for me now, unless somebody comes and helps me." 

Preventing the worst effects of the drought emergency in the Horn of Africa – and helping children like Eunice – is within reach, but only with a sustained effort by UNICEF and its partners and supporters.





UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports from Kenya on the drought in the Horn of Africa and its effects on children’s education.

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