Kenya’s drought: ‘Even camels are dying’

DroughtEnvironment and climate changeKenya

Drought is devastating parts of Kenya, and there is concern for the lives of many people facing malnutrition. Tearfund’s partner Food for the Hungry is responding. 

A UNICEF report1 last month revealed 3.4 million people in Kenya currently don’t have enough food – that’s an increase from 2.6 million in February 2017 when the drought started to intensify. As the country enters its dry season the drought conditions are likely to get even worse.

‘Climate change makes devastating droughts like this more likely – this is a three-year drought now and it’s a similar story across East Africa,’ says Ben Niblett, Senior Campaigner at Tearfund.

‘I’m struck that this is happening at the same time as the floods in Asia, with a third of Bangladesh under water, and the floods in Texas, where we’re seeing patterns of worse disasters and more extreme weather as the climate changes. This is why tackling climate change is so urgent.’

Photo: Will Swanson
Photo: Will Swanson
Photo: Will Swanson
Gathering water in Marsabit

Death strikes

In Marsabit, a vast county in the north of Kenya, many livestock such as goats and sheep have died. Even larger livestock like camels and cattle have succumbed to the arid conditions.

The local people are mostly pastoralists, a life which revolves around the health of their livestock. For example goats are used for selling and getting cash for a family’s needs (education, food, clothes or medication etc.). Local agencies estimate up to 70 per cent of their animals have perished this year.

The broad area and challenging terrain means travelling to those most in need requires lots of resources and incurs extensive transport costs. There are no roads in some areas where the pastoralists live and they constantly migrate in search of better pastures. Food for the Hungry staff can only reach these places by four-wheel drive vehicle as there is no other way to access these people.

Desperate for water

The main source of water for these communities is boreholes, shallow wells and water pans (seasonal dams). The shallow wells and pans depend on rainfall, but at the moment they are all dry due to the lack of rain. 

Diid Karayu from Food for the Hungry in Marsabit county says: ‘Water is the main sustainer of life for a pastoralist because without it you just can’t live. In this time of drought they have to walk for a long distance, but the donkeys can’t make the journey as the pasture has also dried up. They’ve become dependent on water trucking by agencies [such as Food for the Hungry], so they can access water.

‘If there is no water they can’t even cook what little food they have because they need water. There’s a lot of malnutrition among children, pregnant mothers are underweight and the elderly have become skinny – they are really suffering. It’s related to food and water – they have a serious shortage. People are also at risk of contracting diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera.’

In for the long haul

Food for the Hungry’s immediate response to the drought has been food aid and water trucking, as well as screening for cases of malnutrition (thirty per cent of the population in Marsabit are ‘very critically malnourished’ as a result of the drought), hunger, and medical complications, providing support where necessary. 

They have been working in the region for many years. As well as responding to the drought they work in four key sectors – education, livelihoods, nutrition and disaster risk reduction. 

Diid is thankful to the generous gifts Tearfund supporters have given to the East Africa Crisis Appeal, launched six months ago and now totalling over £4 million:

‘It has enabled us to provide food aid and water trucking to people in need. Through the support of Tearfund we are able to do a number of things in the most vulnerable communities. 

‘We are now coming into the dry season which is a critical moment for these pastoralists. With the below average rain we had, pastoralists were not able to recover to the level they were supposed to. Therefore there is a danger that they could lose even more of their livestock and livelihoods.’ 

1UNICEF report:  


  • Pray for the people of Marsabit and others in East Africa who are facing such challenges getting food and water, and staying healthy.

  • Lift up in prayer our partners including Food for the Hungry, who are facing difficulties accessing those most in need. Pray for their safety and effectiveness. 

  • Pray that world leaders would continue to pursue policies which tackle climate change.

Andrew Horton

Andrew is Online News and Film Editor for Tearfund. This involves finding and writing up inspiring articles for the website, and capturing compelling stories on video.