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Mothers hit hard by drought in Horn of Africa

© UNICEF/Kenya/Nybo
Rukiya Sheik Mohamed (seated at right) is struggling to provide for her two children after the drought in Kenya reduced the family's herd of goats from 40 down to only 4.

By Thomas Nybo

GARISSA, Kenya, 13 June 2006 – Signs of death litter the Horn of Africa, stark reminders of a fragile landscape deprived of sufficient water for years on end.

Once water supplies vanish, crops wither and crumble, and livestock dies. While rain did come to the region this spring, it was insufficient to regrow the pastures for the little livestock that was left.

All told, the drought threatens more than 8 million people in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. And for the mothers, the crisis poses a particularly cruel challenge: how to keep their children alive when there is hardly ever enough food, water or medical care.

For one mother, Rukiya Sheik Mohamed, her latest concern is the hyenas patrolling outside her hut. Before the drought, she had a robust herd of 40 goats. Now she's down to four, and when darkness falls, the hyenas come calling.

"When I hear the hyenas at night, I worry about my goats,” she says. “We have to guard them all night, so the hyenas do not eat them."

Like many women in Garissa, Kenya, Ms. Mohamed spends her days cleaning, gathering firewood, and leading her goats to water. Her daughter goes in search of cleaning jobs, while her son pushes a wheelbarrow around the market, hoping to find work hauling goods.

"My husband died 10 years ago,” she says. “He was a sheik. We had money, more animals. He provided for the family. But now, everybody needs to look for means to survive."

Women face insecurity and poverty

Today, UNICEF Kenya’s Zeinab A. Ahmed is talking with the mothers in the area about what they need most.

"These women are in a new environment with their children,” says Ms. Ahmed. “The husbands have taken off with the few animals that have been left after the drought. So there are special protection problems for these women. They are exposed. They don't have good shelter. They can be exploited and abused. At night they fear they can be attacked by men."

When the rains failed to materialize in her home village, Ms. Mohamed travelled 170 km by foot in search of food. She arrived here in Garissa with no money – only her goats.

Since her arrival, sporadic rain has come to the region but not enough to last through the summer until the next rains in October.

The rain’s sudden appearance also presents its own challenges. Water quality is often compromised as muddy ground water fills wells, and there's an increased risk of the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera. Outbreaks of diarrhoea have been reported in Kenya’s northeastern provinces.

And now Ms. Mohamed is learning a hard lesson:  Even in a drought crisis, rain doesn't always mean your troubles take leave, especially if you've got hungry children and few ways to make money.






8 May, 2006
UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on women struggling to provide for their families in drought-affected Kenya.
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