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The wrong kind of rain

Rains have come to parts of East Africa facing the worst drought in memory – but they have brought a new crisis.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 31 Mar 2023

A woman covering her eyes to hide her tears as she talks about the devastating situation people in the region are facing.

A woman in Turkana, Kenya, covers her eyes to hide her tears as she talks about the devastating situation people in the region are facing. The longest droughts in decades have killed crops and livestock, leaving millions facing starvation. Credit: Dixon/ADS Kenya

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.*

New challenges

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.'

‘Unfortunately, we cannot predict an improvement in the food situation in the country. Experts are expecting a very difficult time for the affected communities in the days to come.’
Elizabeth Myendo, Tearfund Disaster Response Lead

Disaster response

Tearfund has been responding to the hunger crisis in Kenya through our local partner, Anglican Development Services, by helping families like Fatouma’s with cash assistance.

‘In the past,’ Fatouma tells us, ‘when everything was normal, someone could slaughter an animal and the meat could be shared with the whole village. But currently no one is able to help each other.’

Fatouma has spent the money she received on essential food items for her family. But she says the money is not enough. ‘I have four children and another child that I have adopted. I couldn’t use the money to help others.’

She and her husband lost all of their livestock. He now tries to get work as a casual labourer, but there are not many opportunities available.

The prolonged drought in the region has stripped the land of nourishment and people of their livelihoods – robbing them of their ability to be self-sufficient and provide for their families.

Please pray for people facing the hunger crisis in East Africa

    • Pray for people who have lost their herds and everything they owned to the droughts and flooding. Ask God to provide for them.
    • Ask God to comfort all those who have faced – and continue to face – the trauma of loss and hunger.
    • Pray for the right rains in the region, and that the land will be able to absorb the water, so that it will bring new life. 

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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