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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 January 2006, 11:59 GMT
Hunger and misery ravage Kenya
By Adam Mynott
North-eastern Kenya

"When the camels start dying, that's when it's getting bad," says Captain Wachilu, a young Kenyan army officer in charge of the government food distribution in the Wajir region.

Herder with animals at a dry water hole
Water holes are drying up quickly
His assessment is impossible to disagree with.

He sends out five trucks a day to different villages dotted across Wajir.

They are loaded with maize, rice, milk-powder and cooking oil.

Every few kilometres alongside the rutted, dusty tracks, the convoy trundles past the carcasses of dead animals.

The bodies of cows, goats and the occasional camel which have succumbed to starvation and heat have been picked at by hyenas and vultures.

Any vehicle driving through this barren landscape is confronted along the road by villagers waving empty plastic bottles, saucepans, bowls - anything that might hold any drop of precious water.

Stick-thin

The last time in rained in Wajir was in the final week of November.

Ehula Golid with dead animals
Ehula Golid has lost more than half his herd and locals say dozens of children have died
But what fell from the skies was not the usual two weeks of steady precipitation soaking into the soil, filling the rivers and aquifers.

It rained for just a day and a half - the second time in the year that seasonal rains failed.

This immediately spelled disaster for the pastoralist community. No rain - no grazing.

Many moved their animals away; those who remained have watched their stock dying in increasing numbers.

Ehula Golid, used to have 46 cows. Now he has 21 and they are stick-thin and sick.

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I bumped into him alongside one of the few remaining water holes in Wajir. It is no longer really a water hole, more like a mud pool, but it does offer animals the chance to take on some fluid.

But there is no grass to eat and nearby, Ehula showed me the bodies of six of his cows which had died from starvation.

In the predominately pastoralist community in north-east Kenya, when the animals start to die the threat to human life is almost immediate.

Waiting for rain

Wajir District Hospital has a tiny paediatric ward.

Fifteen of its 20 beds are occupied by malnourished children.

Children drinking porridge
The government has started feeding programmes
In the past few weeks, six infants have died at the hospital from hunger-related ailments, and some of the some children lying with their mothers in the ward look desperately unwell.

Muslima is 15-months-old.

She arrived at the hospital three days ago suffering from vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration and malnourishment. She weighs just 4.9kg.

Every rough thatched house in every village in Wajir district seems to hold a pitiful tale.

In Macoror village, Yunis Mohammed Hassan is looking after three of his children while his wife has taken two others to hospital.

"I used to be a rich man," he said. "I had 160 cattle. Now I have 2. I have no money, no work, my children are sick. What do I do?"

Malnourished child in Kenya
Children in Wajir's hospital are malnourished
His misery is mirrored in the faces of all his neighbours. They know it will not rain again until April, and their plight will only get worse.

They say that hunger has killed 32 people, mostly children, in their village alone, suggesting that the official figure of 40 deaths so far nationwide could be a gross underestimate.

The Kenyan government has started a feeding programme and the World Food Programme of the United Nations and others have been distributing food aid.

But the region is short of supplies and the demand is rising. The Kenyan government has appealed for $150m to save the lives of people threatened by famine.

The drought is also affecting neighbouring countries: Southern Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the failed crops in drought-stricken Kenya



SEE ALSO:
Kenya in drive to feed starving
07 Jan 06 |  Africa
Food crisis 'worsens' in Kenya
05 Jan 06 |  Africa
Country profile: Kenya
10 Jan 01 |  Country profiles


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