Northern Kenya drought leaves thousands of children hungry
Turkana is one of the worst counties hit by the drought
In Losol village, northern Kenya, Akalapatan Eeron and her four children haven’t eaten in three days.
“My children and I feel exhausted because we’re hungry,” says the 25-year-old single mother who sleeps with the children in a makeshift shelter made of grass matts and blue tarpaulins.
The village, located in Turkana County, is surrounded by a desert-like landscape of yellow sand and small shiny stones, left parched, hot and dusty by four years without rain.
“I used to have three goats but they died because of the drought. So, I came here in search of gold to have money to take care of my children,” Akalapatan explains.
However, the situation in Losol isn’t much better than her own village and her plans to mine gold haven’t been as lucrative as she’d hoped.
“When I’m lucky, in a week, I find one or two carats which I sell for 100 Shillings. Sometimes I find nothing at all. I use the money to buy water and flour to make porridge for my children. On a good day, we eat one meal.”
While Losol is traditionally a pastoral community it is growing fast with an estimated population of 2,100 made up of mostly people like Akalapatan, searching for a better life and a way to survive the drought.
However, families here have no choice but to buy water as there is no wells or pumps, let alone water holes or rivers. The nearest free water source is a borehole about 20km away, an unbearable distance to walk in this heat.
Food is also scarce and cases of malnutrition among children, as well as lactating and pregnant mothers, are rising.
UNICEF estimates more than 900,000 children in Kenya currently require humanitarian aid as a result of prolonged drought.
In response, the Ministry of Health and the Kenya Red Cross Society, with support from UNICEF and USAID, recently conducted an outreach clinic in the area to assess children under 5 years old for malnutrition and provide them with immunizations.
Clinic staff found that Akalaptan’s 19-month-old daughter Akal was suffering from moderate acute malnutrition. She was given ready-to-use supplementary food (RUSF) to get her health back on track.
Moses Edapal, a nutritionist at the outreach-clinic, says the lack of sanitation and hygiene in the area, which is being exacerbated by the drought, is contributing to the high malnutrition rates.
“Water is scarce, and there are no toilets. This has led to increased cases of diarrhoea among children in the community, which is further triggering malnutrition,” says Edapal.
“Seeing children suffering here like this is not a good feeling because the best we can do is provide nutrition supplies and hope they’re only given to the malnourished child as treatment dose.”
However, Edapal said some families didn’t always give the food to the children and ended up sharing the RUSF among each other because they also lacked food.
The outreach-clinic will be conducted for the next six months following the first session which took place in November. Community health volunteers will also closely monitor children found to be malnourished, ensuring they recover.
UNICEF nutrition specialist Francis Kidake says that 15,361 severely malnourished children had been registered for treatment in Turkana County since late September.
“Turkana is one of the three counties experiencing worsening drought. The children in Turkana need assistance now more than ever as we foresee a fifth failed rainy season approaching.”
As for Akalapatan, knowing her baby is malnourished makes her feel sad because she hasn’t been able to produce breastmilk regularly due to her poor diet.
“I would like to see all four of my children in good health,” she says. “The drought has brought so much uncertainty, and I don’t know when I will find gold next. Every day is a struggle.”