For the past two and a half years, the Horn of Africa has been contending with the worst drought to hit the region in decades. At its height, over 23 million people were facing food shortages including some 5.4 million people in Kenya. A recent study directly linked the severity of this drought to the climate crisis.
In the summer of 2022, Christian Aid Ireland staff travelled to Marsabit county in northern Kenya and witnessed firsthand the cruel impact of extreme drought. We saw crops starved of water withering in their fields and the carcasses of valuable livestock, the lifeblood of rural herding communities, dotted all around.
Fast forward a year and Marsabit is now considered to be ‘recovering’. Rain finally arrived during the most recent rainy season between March and May, reducing the distances people have to walk to collect water for their families and improving pasture lands for livestock, which has enhanced the health of those that remain.
Seeing the impact of the climate crisis in Northern Kenya
Unfortunately, the recent rains didn't automatically provide relief to all drought-stricken communities. They did not arrive gradually but came in a sudden torrent and the rainwater was unable to be absorbed by the rock-hard earth. Within a short while, communities went from parched earth to being flooded.
Through our local partner Community Initiative Facilitation and Assistance (CIFA), Christian Aid has supported communities across Marsabit impacted by drought and flooding.
41-year-old Yarey Madim Dika lives in one of these communities. She is chair of the Yaballo self-help group who received a grant from CIFA thanks to funding from Christian Aid’s East Africa appeal. The group used their grant to rent a building in the village and buy food in bulk to set up a shop where they sell a mix of food from rice and sugar to bottled water.
Many families in the community rely on rearing livestock and farming crops. But for the group’s members, having an alternative source of income through the shop means they are not totally reliant on herding and farming to survive.
The group split the profits they make amongst themselves as well as put some back into a savings and loan scheme which members can borrow from.
“We give members loans to start businesses themselves. Every member has their own needs, some members have medical bills and others have school fees to pay so that’s what we do with the savings,” Yarey explains.
The community in Yaballo was badly impacted by the drought.
“The people here are pastoralists, they keep livestock. Because of the drought, they have lost the livestock and because they lost their livelihoods many are living in poverty,” Yarey explains.
Yaballo is very much a village on the frontline of the climate crisis. Having come through more than two years of severe drought, Yaballo was struck by flash flooding in March; a common issue for areas suffering prolonged drought as a consequence of the rock-hard soil being unable to absorb the rainwater.
Community members in Yaballo told of how the floods destroyed the majority of the village’s water pans, damaged roads, homes, displaced people and destroyed the bridge leading up to the village from the main road, cutting off access. As Yarey explains, the flooding impacted the groups’ profits.
“We made 55,000 Kenyan shillings of profit in January. At that time the road had not yet been destroyed by the floods so the business did well. The following month we were able to make a profit of 40,000. In March, we made a profit of 30,000. But when the road was destroyed by the floods, we didn’t make a profit,” Yarey says.
According to OCHA, while improved rains are starting to ease the impacts of the drought, the devastation of the drought in the region will be felt for years to come.
Despite now being considered to be recovering from the drought, child malnutrition remains a problem in Marsabit, with many families still not eating enough food, due to high food prices and lack of money.
This reality was made clear from a nurse that Christian Aid spoke to who works in a small health clinic in another village in Marsabit further south called Kamboe in Laisamis.
John Lenareyo has worked in the clinic for two years which provides the community with a range of healthcare services including antenatal and maternity care, testing for infections and diseases, malnutrition screening and providing nutritional advice and support.
John told Christian Aid that while there has been some improvement, there are still around 30 children who are malnourished in the community, including six who are severely malnourished.
With funding from Irish Aid, Christian Aid’s local partner Pastoralist Community Initiative Development and Assistance (PACIDA) has provided over 60 community self-help groups across the Laisamis and North Horr areas of Marsabit county with financial support so they can carry out small scale projects that will benefit the wider community.
One self-help group in Kamboe used some of their funding they received to buy medical equipment for the health clinic to help them carry out tests for many of the conditions common locally.
Weighing scales and armbands were also bought to help screen children as well as pregnant and new mothers for malnutrition. Peter Kulmicha works as a nutritionist alongside John in the clinic.
“The expectant mothers lack food that can help babies grow healthily. We provide them with nutritious food and we visit them in their homes and advise them on how to improve their diets and to live a healthy life,” Peter says.
Peter explains how the drought has pushed people in Kamboe further into extreme poverty.
Working through local partners, Christian Aid has supported nearly 45,000 people in northern Kenya impacted by the severe drought by providing cash as well as grants, repairing wells and providing medicine to keep valuable livestock alive.