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( Desperation rises over drought in Africa

Posted by: Biniam Tekle

Date: Sunday, 05 March 2017

Desperation rises over drought in Africa

Published 2:08 pm, Saturday, March 4, 2017
A herder drives livestock from one of the few remaining watering holes near the drought-stricken village of Bandarero, Kenya. Photo: Ben Curtis, Associated Press

“If this water gets finished I am going to die,” said the 64-year-old single mother of four.

The scorched earth and scrubland in this semiarid region of Kenya are littered with livestock carcasses in various stages of decomposition. Vultures wait patiently, waiting for nearby humans to leave. Kenya has declared the drought that affects nearly half of its counties a national disaster.

To ensure the survival of her children, Junno has resorted to selling tea to other herders, some even from neighboring Ethiopia, who like her have traveled long distances to remaining watering holes.

The prices of livestock have plummeted as buyers take advantage of herders’ desperation. A cow that used to sell for $150 or more now sells for $20, and a goat that used to sell for $35 now goes for $2.

Marsabit county is among 10 hit hardest by the drought in Kenya and beyond. Some areas have reported intercommunity fighting and land invasions as herders push further on their search for increasingly limited water.

The U.N. humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien, toured Bandarero village Friday and called on the international community to act to “avert the very worst of the effects of drought and to avert a famine to make sure we don’t go from what is deep suffering to a catastrophe.”

He pointed out that famine was declared last month in parts of neighboring South Sudan, and that another neighbor, Somalia, is at risk of famine for the second time in a decade.

On Saturday, Somalia’s prime minister said 110 people have died from hunger in the previous 48 hours in a single region. Hassan Ali Khaire spoke during a meeting with the Somali National Drought Committee. The death toll he announced is from the Bay region in the southwest part of the country.

Thousands have been streaming into Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in search of food aid, overwhelming local and international aid agencies. More than 7,000 internally displaced people checked into one feeding center recently.

In Kenya, more than 2.7 million people are severely food insecure, O’Brien said.

After a severe drought hit East Africa in 2011, Kenya and donors put in place measures to lessen the impact of future droughts on parts of northern Kenya that government reports have called vulnerable.

The measures include a Hunger Safety Program that provides $24 for more than 100,000 households every month, as well as a school food program. But Junno said cash safety net services meant to cushion the vulnerable have not reached herders.

Tom Odula is an Associated Press writer.

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