In East Africa, 22 million people are facing starvation. It’s a hunger crisis of devastating proportions caused by five consecutive failed rainy seasons. And now, in Marsabit, Kenya, the rains have come. But they have come late and in short, heavy downpours, bringing with them a new aspect to the crisis.
With the land so parched and with little or no vegetation left, the ground has not been able to absorb the rain and it has brought flash flooding in many areas, sweeping away livestock and homes.*
Elizabeth Myendo, who leads Tearfund’s Disaster Response work in the region, explains more about the situation: ‘The past five rainy seasons have failed. We have been waiting and praying for a breakthrough in this intense period of drought, but now that it’s here, people are facing new challenges.
‘Rain has fallen on ground that was so extremely parched it has been unable to absorb the runoff. More than 800 households have been displaced by floodwater and many roads are impassable. Cattle, weakened by drought, have also been swept away and drowned in the floods.’
In the semi-arid region of Marsabit, where many people rely on livestock farming to survive, 80 per cent of their animals had already perished. The sudden flooding has caused yet more losses.
Loss of livestock
Along with the flooding, Elizabeth explains a further danger to livestock: ‘When the rains come after a prolonged dry period, worms emerge from underground where they have been hibernating. When the livestock feed on these pastures that have been infested by the worms, they die. One person lost 100 cows overnight because the cows were feeding on these worms. Now, it’s reported that 10,000 cattle have died as a result of floods.’
For communities like these who rely on their herds to make an income and to feed themselves and their families, Elizabeth says, ‘To lose a herd is both financial ruin and extremely difficult psychologically.’
More difficult days ahead
Although the rains are vital in a region where many have been forced by the drought to rely on trucks bringing water, and where desperate attempts to find ways to feed families have led to the number of child marriages more than doubling, the rains have not brought an end to the crisis.
Boreholes used to get water during the dry season are still too salty to use, and soil erosion and the lack of vegetation means that the land will struggle to hold the water for irrigation.
‘Unfortunately, we cannot predict an improvement in the food situation in the country,’ says Elizabeth. ‘Experts are expecting a very difficult time for the affected communities in the days to come.'