“Worst drought in four decades”

A Kenya Red Cross volunteer holds their hand on the shoulder of an elderly nomad
Photo: Terjo Aaltonen / Suomen Punainen Risti

Four rainy seasons have already failed, and the fifth looks to be no exception. People in remote areas of Kenya wish for rain and praise the help of the Red Cross.

A strong wind blows and stirs up a brown cloud of dust, a small local sandstorm.

Scolastica Esekon fills a canister with water, lifts it above her head and, standing tall, starts on her way home. The journey is not long, as help from the Red Cross has allowed the village of Aukot in northwestern Kenya to drill a well, erect a water tower and build a couple of water supply points, with one only a couple of hundred metres away from Esekon’s home.

The water supply point has been a great help. Before, Esekon had to travel several kilometres for water, and it was often already late after she had finished doing odd jobs for the day.

“It was dangerous to pick up water at night,” Esekon explains.

Historic drought

It should rain twice a year in the Horn of Africa: short rains usually fall between October and December and long rains between April and June, forming the pillar supporting the lives of nomads and small farmers.

Four consecutive rains have already failed to arrive, and according to weather forecasts, no rain is expected towards the end of the year. The entire Horn of Africa is gripped by the worst drought in four decades.

Peter Abwao standing in front of a Kenya Red Cross building.
“We have helped more than 100,000 households in various ways: through cash grants, food aid and health programmes,” explains Peter Abwao from the Kenya Red Cross. Photo: Esa Salminen / Suomen Punainen Risti

Finnish Red Cross representative for East Africa Maria Suoheimo monitors the situation in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia from Nairobi. She describes the situation as completely untypical.

“People here are used to regular dry periods, but a dry year has usually been followed by a rainy year.

Reserves have run out, and inflation has pushed up food prices. The situation is worsened by the war in Ukraine and climate change,” Suoheimo says.

“People who have had the least influence on global warming now suffer most from its impacts.”

In the Horn of Africa, 20 million people are in need of immediate food aid. 10 million children suffer from malnutrition, and 1.8 million of them would require hospital care. The numbers are continuously growing.

People who have had the least influence on global warming now suffer most from its impacts.

Cattle and men have gone

In the village of Aukot, a large share of the cattle has already died, and the rest of the cows and goats have set out to find pasture elsewhere. Only the women, children, disabled and elderly remain in the village.

The members of the Turkana tribe are nomadic people. They are now starting to consider whether they should take up farming, in deviation from their traditional nomadic practices.

One of the village elders, Ebenyo Muya, says that this is not an easy idea to the Turkana, but change may be inevitable.

“At least no one can steal our fields,” Muya says.

Near the well and water tower established with the help of the Red Cross, an area of field has been tilled for experimenting whether the dry, dusty and somewhat salty soil could be used to grow some food crops. Muya and others have visited the neighbouring county to get to know farming communities.

Their start has not been easy. One problem is elephants coming each night from the nearby national park to feed on the villagers’ fields.

Farhiya Abdi Ali in her shop.
Kenyan shopkeeper Farhiya Abdi Ali, 32, received a grant from the Red Cross allowing her to send her children to school and refill the stock at her shop. Photo: Esa Salminen / Suomen Punainen Risti

Cash, food and slaughtering

According to Muya and Esekon, the Red Cross has supported the villagers besides providing water supply points.

At times, people have received food aid, and cash grants are also distributed in some villages. The cattle programme has helped many. Its idea is to cut down the number of cattle during a dry period before the animals starve to death and buy more cattle when the rains arrive.

“Us widows and other disadvantaged people also received meat. It helped a great deal,” praises Scolastica Esekon.

The Red Cross aims to support around 1.5 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, but many more are in need of aid. The goal is to ensure that aid reaches the villages and people who need help the most, e.g. children, the elderly, disabled or otherwise vulnerable people.

Esekon and Muya say that there is a great need for additional support in their village as well. If the village had water pipes transporting water wider, even more people could start small-scale farming. Esekon also dreams about raising chickens.

“This would ensure that we are not dependent on aid,” she says.