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Pastoralists need help, despite the world's economic crisis

Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 21 Oct 2011 11:45 GMT
Author: Esther Williams
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By Esther Williams

“There is no livestock here. Most of them have died because there’s no grass, no water -  everything is disastrous.”

These are the words of 18-year-old Terry Said, who lives and attends school in Marasibit, Northern Kenya. Marsabit is the driest region in Kenya and its population consists of mainly pastoralist communities and farmers who depend on consistent weather patterns to feed their animals and produce crops.

This region has received little rain since 2009. The scorched, red dusty earth is littered with animal carcasses and despair is etched into people’s faces. Yet they maintain their dignity – surprisingly, no one begs.

When we see images of poverty and suffering on our television screens, it’s easy for fatigue to set in. “Africa’s perennial begging bowl is out again,” we think. I understand this cynicism. There is a global economic crisis happening and many of us in the developed world are struggling to make ends meet. So why should we help hungry Africans?

After spending four days in Marsabit, the answer is simple. None of us will ever come close to the level of suffering these communities experience on a day-to-day basis.

Farmers rely on the land to produce regular harvests and to have healthy animals.  If the crops and animals are all dead, they have nothing to eat or sell. Having no animals is like having no money in your bank account. No rain means no food, so people have to rely on assistance from aid agencies to address a climate-related crisis that is not of their making.

While there are those who continue to deny the realities of climate change, it continues to have its devastating impact on parts of the developing world, exacerbating existing inequalities between rich and poor nations.

For the communities in Marsabit, the recent World Food Day was a day like any other that came and went with people counting themselves lucky to have one small meal of rice. But for us, it was an opportunity to remind ourselves that no one should have to sit and wait, sometimes for weeks at a time, for food or water.

Donor governments must invest in small-scale, sustainable agriculture and diversified livelihoods, aimed at marginal groups, to build their resilience to recurring droughts, volatile food prices and conflict.

Tearfund works with a local partner in Marsabit to provide water to remote rural villages and schools.  The water table is low in this region so it is very difficult to sink bore holes – one of the reasons why water scarcity is such a critical issue here.

It's here that I met Terry, who hopes to be a journalist one day.

“The international community need to help us with alternative livelihoods and water. When water is not available at home or at school we have many problems. We can’t bathe, we can’t clean.  Water is life,” she said.

Esther Williams is a journalist working for Tearfund, the Christian relief and development agency.

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