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The face of drought in stricken Wajir county, northern Kenya

© by Katie G. Nelson/Oxfam

By Blandina Bobson – Wajir, KENYA

The face of drought in Wajir County, in Kenya’s north is ugly. The land is bare and expansive, multiple whirlwinds sweeping across every now and then, which local myths call ‘the devil’. It is emaciated animals feeding on what seems like invisible grass on the ground or camels browsing on thorny remains of what used to be green leafy bushes. Masses of evidently emaciated livestock hurdling to quench their thirst around water points, after hours-long treks in search of the same. Women will wait patiently in line to fill their jerry cans to take back home.

Dead livestock are a common sight in many parts of Wajir, in northern Kenya, which is in the grip of a severe drought that is expected to last until October 2017. Katie G. Nelson/Oxfam

Families have been sunk into increasing vulnerability. Men are struggling to provide for their families, their faces are sad and strained as they stare into the unknown future, while the eyes of women and children dart about in hope whenever ‘visitors’ drop by their villages.

In July, an assessment of the drought crisis in the country revealed that 3.4 million people in Kenya are now severely food insecure and need urgent food assistance. Of these, 800,000 will likely be in a more serious food situation by September.

“I used to buy my children milk but I can’t afford it anymore because business is really down. The livestock owners who used to be my customers have migrated with the little livestock they have left”, said Rukia, a widow and a mother of 5 children who runs a small business in Dambas village.

Oxfam, supported by the humanitarian arm of the European Union, is providing cash assistance for food, water and other essentials to 3,000 families in parts of Wajir. This assistance complements that of the Kenya government through the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) which is now over 54,000 families with similar assistance. In the grand scheme of things, this is only a drop in the ocean given the fast deteriorating situation.

Despite offering reprieve, this assistance does not come without its fair share of challenges. Oxfam has spoken with families who have been forced to share part of their monthly cash assistance of KES 2,700 (25 Euros) with those in their communities not directly targeted by the program, yet are in critical need of help. This is a strong indication that even those that were thought to be less vulnerable have also lost the little muscle they had to deal with the effects of the drought.

“We are illiterate and vulnerable, if we raise complaints we might not get our cash’’, said Kasim Makala, 46 – year old mother of eight, who has previously received similar help.

While we must recognize the efforts of different actors in the response, there is certainly more that should be done now to ensure that affected communities get the help they need. More resources are urgently needed to reach the ever growing scale of need.

Everyone must play their part. Local, national and international actors must complement the efforts being undertaken by the government and humanitarian agencies and ensure that affected communities are able to cope with the effects of the prolonged drought.

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