For World Food Day 2012, World Vision’s Ashley Clements revisited Kenya’s rural southeast, which was hit by the worst drought in sixty years last summer. The drought provoked a food crisis that descended into famine in some areas.
Pastoralists make up much of the population in rural Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia where the drought was most severe.
Their survival depends on the health of their herds of cattle, camels and goats. When drought hits, they must drive their animals further and further from their homes in search of water.
Last summer, much of the pasture also dried up, so there was nothing for the animals to eat along the way. Many animals died and those that survived became too skinny to have any value in the market.
To combat this problem and protect people against future droughts, World Vision supported the construction of over seven kilometres of pipeline to bring clean, safe water to this community near Kitui. This ‘water kiosk,’ completed earlier this year, serves as a distribution point for around 6,000 people in the area.
Each day sees as many as 400 people and countless livestock making use of the water point to drink and gather what water each family needs.
Six-year old May (above) and her friends stop by at the kiosk to fill up their water bottles on the way home from school. From the top of a nearby hill, she pointed out the old dam on which the community used to rely for water; now bone dry from lack of rain.
The water was salty and often made the children sick, they say. But they no longer have to travel far to reach a clean source of water, as they have the new pipeline.
Today, with less time needed to collect water, children can focus on their studies and parents are able to put more effort into farming.
Crop yields and food quality are going up, say those at the water point, and this is helping to keep children healthy and well-nourished.
A recent study by World Vision in this area has found acute malnutrition rates to be dropping, despite the absence of good rains this year.
Access to water is crucial, but so too is adequate health care. Clements visited a rural health post, part of a network that is screening thousands of children across the area each month for malnutrition. The project aims to catch signs of malnutrition early in young children, treat those in need with out-patient care, and refer on those children who are most severely affected.
One such case is that of Muthina (above). Now 11-months old, when she first came to the clinic she was severely underweight and close to death. Grace, a first-time mother, was ill-equipped to read the danger signs of malnutrition when the severe drought caused widespread hunger throughout the region.
Now putting on weight, Muthina has a healthy roundness to her face. She is alert, watching the conversation intently, but fixing me with an unbreaking gaze.
World Vision saved her life, explained Muthina's mother, as she fondles her patchy but thick crop of hair that is slowly returning. Grace and her own mother now make it their mission to spread awareness of the dangers of malnutrition and encourage other families in the community to act quickly when the signs begin to show.
Relatively small interventions, such as piping water to a kiosk and supporting a local malnutrition clinic can make an enormous difference to communities...protecting them from the worst effects of drought.
If people have enough to survive, they are not forced to become refugees in large camps like Dadaab in Kenya, which saw such a massive influx last summer.