Drought in Africa: a life-threatening drought

Status: December 26, 2021 3:01 p.m.

For more than a year now, people in eastern Kenya have been hoping for rain. The drought is literally drying up their livelihoods and causing further crises. The consequences for the shepherds are dramatic.

By Caroline Hoffmann, ARD Studio Nairobi

This morning they finally get help: Ntereiyan Lenkegen and the other women from the village of Loruko in eastern Kenya are waiting in the shade of a large tree. Finally something to eat, because they can no longer feed themselves.

Caroline Hoffmann
ARD-Studio Nairobi

Three rainy seasons have almost completely failed in Loruko, it has hardly rained for more than a year. The ground is dry, the grass no longer grows. “This drought hurts us, it is everywhere and so many animals have died. Life is hard,” says the mother of six.

Ntereiyan Lenkegen nit her children – more and more often the mother hardly knows how to support her family.

Image: Caroline Hoffmann

An increasingly empty stall

She has to support her family on her own; her husband died a few years ago. Ntereiyan Lenkegen is a shepherdess. She lives on her animals, but in this drought she lost 25 sheep and goats and two cows. Their stable made of simple wooden sticks, rubber tires and plastic, fenced in with wood and thorn bushes, is completely empty.

One of their children drives the remaining twelve animals north in hopes of finding pastureland. “I don’t have any cattle that I can sell right now. That makes it so hard. I try to collect firewood and wash other people’s clothes so I can buy at least some food for my children,” says the mother.

Many shepherds in the north and east of Kenya report that they have already lost up to 70 percent of their animals, such as Ntereiyan Lenkegen. When they can’t sell any more cattle, they have nothing to live on. In some cities, the remaining animals are so weak that they have to be slaughtered. “We are dependent on them,” explains Lawrence Lekupes, the village chief of Loruka: “Very few people here have other jobs. Most of the cows are dead.”

Two and a half million are suffering from the effects of the drought

In Kenya, more than two and a half million people are affected by drought and hunger, and their food situation is critical. You need help. Food donations, like that day in Loruko – or money to buy food.

And not only Kenya is suffering from the drought: “In Somalia, South Sudan and Ethiopia, especially in the drovers’ regions with dry and semi-arid areas, the situation is the same everywhere,” says Hassan Olow from the aid organization Concern Worldwide. “And more and more people are affected.” In Somalia alone there are another three million.

In Kenya, around two and a half million people are dependent on aid such as food donations as a result of the drought.

Image: Caroline Hoffmann

The rain cycle is permanently interrupted

Scientists say that the rain cycle is permanently interrupted by the rising temperatures. The result: the frequency of droughts is increasing. And when it does rain, the drops are not enough for the grass to grow. Or the rain hits the ground so hard that it simply washes it away. There is flooding.

“The changes in the climate are increasing and they are leading to more crises,” says Kelvin Shingles from Welthungerhilfe. The background is climate change. The villages and communities find it increasingly difficult to cope with the recurring problems.

In the past few years, other crises have been added. “The villages fought against the locust plague, then against the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic,” explains Shingles. “All of these problems have massively reduced people’s resilience. And now the drought is on top of that.”

A struggle for fewer and fewer resources

Not only do livestock die, wild animals also perish. In the past few months, they found eleven dead giraffes in the Sabuli Wildlife Conservancy in the east of the country. In search of water, the warthogs and other animals come ever closer to the villages. The conflicts between humans and animals are increasing.

And the groups of shepherds are also fighting among themselves for fewer and fewer resources, for pasture land and access to water. Armed conflict is increasing. Lots of livestock used to mean wealth, but that no longer applies. The shepherds are struggling more and more to keep their animals alive.

And so the drought is threatening their traditional way of life. “They have to learn to make a living in more diverse ways. Maybe reduce the number of their animals so they can survive in the future,” says Shingles. But the shepherds cannot do it alone, and the Kenyan government would have to give massive support.

A large part of the population is deprived of animal husbandry. But more and more animals are dying in the heat.

Image: Caroline Hoffmann

The drought is expected to last for months

Ntereiyan Lenkegen can’t even think so far. She wonders how to feed her children for the next few months. She received cornmeal with the aid delivery, as well as oil, rice and beans. She hopes there will be enough food for the whole family for a month.

She is particularly worried about her little one. “My children are not getting enough to eat,” she explains. Even the smallest ones need milk. In the past she always got this from her animals. Milk is actually an important part of the diet for children under five in shepherd families.

But their animals are gone. And so whenever Ntereiyan Lenkegen has a bit of money, she goes straight to the nearest kiosk to buy her son’s milk. She hopes that things will finally get better and that the drought will soon be over. However, the predictions look different. The current drought is expected to last until the middle of next year. The plight of the people will then increase significantly.

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