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EDITOR’S TAKE: Yemen needs commercial imports to avoid famine (#LetTradeIn)

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 19:26:28 +0000

After increasingly dire warnings that Yemen is on the verge of (or in the midst of) famine, the Saudi Arabian-led coalition has announced it will reopen on Thursday a key port and airport for “humanitarian and relief efforts”, ending a partial blockade lasting more than two weeks.   Hodeidah port and Sana’a airport were shut down after Houthi rebels fired a missile at Riyadh earlier this month, and the coalition responded by closing all routes into Yemen, saying it was to prevent weapons smuggling.   The situation inside Yemen deteriorated quickly and was feared to get much worse, with a run on fuel, water shortages, and concerns that food stores would empty within the next few months. Humanitarians have been tweeting about the impending disaster with the hashtag #LetAidIn.   The semi-opening of Hodeidah and Sana’a is welcome news, if indeed the ships and planes full of food and vital medical supplies are really granted entry. But many Yemenis will need more than aid if they are to survive this crisis; they'll need commercial imports too.   The importance of Hodeidah   Forces loyal to internationally recognised (but deposed) Yemeni President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, have been trying to oust Houthi rebels and fighters who side with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh for more than two and a half years.   Even before the war, Yemen was the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, with 4.5 million Yemenis classified as "severely food insecure" in 2014. Yemenis rely on imports for 80-90 percent of their food, including two key staples – wheat and rice – the majority of which comes through Hodeidah and the nearby smaller (and also shuttered) Saleef port. Wheat is mostly shipped to Yemen unprocessed and in bulk and processed at Hodeidah, which, despite its diminished capacity thanks to airstrikes, still has working silos and grain mills. Vitally, there’s no indication yet that the Saudis plan to re-open this port to commercial imports.   Aden, under the Saudi coalition’s control, was re-opened last week for commercial trade and aid deliveries, but it only has 40 percent of the milling and storage capacity of Hodeidah. Other seaports were never really closed, but are too small to handle large-scale shipping anyway.   If traders are forced to use Aden for commerical imports, they may have to pivot to packaged flour or rice. A shift to flour would likely be costly, and that cost would be passed down to the Yemeni consumer.   But it’s not only rising prices that are a concern. A Yemeni source familiar with the matter told IRIN that Aden is also unlikely to be able to scale up quickly enough to handle the amount of imports that could soon be directed its way. Issues include the union that controls the boats and staffing, and the fact that the port’s customs department only works part-time – when the air conditioning in the hangar it uses is actually functioning.   Then there’s the problem of location. By UN estimates, 71 percent of the nearly 19 million Yemenis who need assistance are in Houthi-Saleh controlled areas. Getting food – or aid for that matter – to them from Aden, which is in the hands of various competing forces nominally loyal to Hadi – is extremely difficult. The source told IRIN there are dozens, even as many as 100 checkpoints on the route that can handle lorries between Aden and Houthi-Saleh run Sana’a. Hodeidah and Saleef, which fall in Houthi-Saleh territory, are the natural fit for bringing food to this population.   The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), which is funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), recently reported that “even if throughput [through Aden] improves significantly, famine will remain likely, once stocks are depleted, in areas that had relied on food imports from [Hodeidah] ports, but that are less able to shift towards Aden as a source of staple food.”   It added that even for areas that are able to access imports from Aden, the famine risk remains, given the likely in[...]

IRIN TEDx Talk: Stop eating junk news

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 14:05:17 +0000

Over the last decade, we've awoken to the fact that junk food hurts us. It's time for a similar revolution in our news consumption. 

In this new TEDx Talk, IRIN Director Heba Aly takes on the role of ‘chief news nutritionist’. Fake news is one thing but Heba explains why we must stop consuming the more insidious, less obvious variety of junk news: “If classical junk news is your greasy double bacon cheeseburger, junk coverage of important news is the low fat blueberry muffin that looks healthy but is actually loaded with calories.”

A journalist covering humanitarian crises for the past 10 years, Heba highlights through personal experiences and powerful examples the dangers of simplistic narratives that can warp our views of conflicts and crises, affect realities on the ground and even impact peace negotiations.

“It has never been more important to understand our ever-complex world because we cannot prevent, respond to or resolve these crises if we do not properly understand them,” she says. 

“This isn’t just about a failure to understand the world around us. Junk news erodes our democracies because it fails to give us the information we need to be responsible, active citizens and to make informed decisions about our own lives.” 

IRIN’s mission is to put quality, independent journalism at the service of the most vulnerable people on earth. As Heba explains, “reliable journalism does exist - you just have to seek it out and consume it, and where possible support the journalists producing it.”

Food is fuel; knowledge is power. Better diets make us healthier. High quality news helps change the world for the better. Support IRIN’s journalism here.

Stop eating junk news | Heba Aly | TEDxChamonix

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Peeking through the cracks into Yemen’s war

Wed, 15 Nov 2017 08:47:13 +0000

In a city positioning itself as a bastion of stability and safety in the midst of war, Yemen’s humanitarian crisis (which the UN calls the largest in the world) is still palpable. You just have to peer through the cracks to see it.   Sometime in the far-gone past, several legends go, the Queen of Sheba (Bilquis in Arabic) ruled over a wealthy kingdom from what is now the middle of Yemen.   What she did, or if she even existed, differs based on religious text and archaeological record, but her past is very much present in today’s Yemen.   Politicians, academics, and tribal leaders invoke the ruler as an example of a time when the country prospered. So perhaps it’s no coincidence the ruins of her supposed throne were one of the first places a group of Western journalists and researchers (myself included) were shown earlier this month in Marib, a city that is booming both because of and in spite of Yemen’s long war. Annie Slemrod/IRIN The six-columned Queen of Sheba's throne is believed to have been a temple   The temple is the sort of place you could get lost in, with its towering stone columns and carvings in an ancient script, were it not for the armed men surrounding the site (for our benefit) and their hurried instructions to move out.   As we did so, the jarring reality hovered in my head that today’s Yemen is not only at war but also in the throes of a humanitarian catastrophe that is the antithesis of the famed riches of Bilquis.   A Saudi Arabian-led coalition and forces allied with the internationally recognised (but deposed) President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi have been battling Houthi rebels and fighters loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh for more than two and a half years.   The war is in something of a stalemate now, but more than 5,350 civilians (likely a massive undercount) are dead (the majority by Saudi airstrikes), millions can’t afford enough food, and a cholera epidemic has swept through the country, killing thousands more.   Rare access   Foreign journalists are rarely able to access the country (with a few notable exceptions), and so when the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies managed to secure visas and organise a trip – even to one of the less hard-hit parts of Yemen – I was in.   That meant heading to Marib, which presents itself as an island of calm in the midst of a country in collapse. Thanks to oil, a charismatic governor with ties to a modern-day royal family in Saudi Arabia, a major military headquarters, plus tribal politics, it is growing and considered relatively safe, at least for those with sympathies on one side of the war.   But it’s not yet secure enough for a gaggle of journalists to roam the streets, or so deemed Marib’s provincial governor Sultan al-Arada and his diligent security team. So when they said to move, I did (perhaps not as swiftly as they would have liked). I listened to talk of expansion and of the war’s progression, and I went where I could.   I did not see the malnourished children that are the face of a country that could be about to plunge into famine if aid does not get in soon, and perhaps they weren’t there. But I did catch glimpses of the crisis.   As the Sana’a Center’s co-founder and chairman Farea al-Muslimi put it to me after the trip: “It’s a… Yemeni habit to hide your pain and exaggerate your good… Just because you didn’t see [the full extent of the crisis], doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”   Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink   It’s said that the collapse of the Marib dam, around 575 CE, apocryphally attributed to a mouse, set off one of the world’s first refugee crises – the flood of tens of thousands of people out into the Arabian Peninsula.   Today’s dam is functioning just fine – it’s full enough for a few people to have a swim and float on black inner tubes.   The water from the dam, experts told us, goes to irrigation. And i[...]

Yemen “starvation” warnings as Saudi Arabia shuts borders

Thu, 09 Nov 2017 14:13:10 +0000

  Aid agencies are ringing loud alarm bells after the Saudi Arabia-led coalition closed Yemen’s land borders, sea ports, and airspace, warning of the extreme dangers of cutting off access and assistance to a country already on the verge of famine.   The UN’s top relief official Mark Lowcock told reporters on Wednesday that if the new restrictions – now in place for three days – were not lifted, Yemen faces “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades”.   On the same day, 18 major NGOs said in a joint statement that “the humanitarian situation is extremely fragile and any disruption in the pipeline of critical supplies such as food, fuel, and medicines has the potential to bring millions of people closer to starvation and death”.   The Saudi Arabia-led coalition announced on Monday that it was closing all routes into Yemen, two days after a missile was fired by Houthi rebels towards the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The missile was intercepted, but the coalition said it was sealing off the country to “address vulnerabilities” in inspection procedures that had allowed Houthi rebels to obtain missiles like the one aimed at Riyadh, as well as other military equipment.   The coalition is fighting alongside forces loyal to internationally recognised (but deposed) President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi to oust Houthi rebels and forces allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.   The impact of the war has been drastic: The breakdown in Yemen’s health system and sanitation facilities contributed to a cholera epidemic that has killed 2,196 people and infected close to a million since April. The UN counts 5,353 civilian deaths related directly to the war and 8,912 injuries since March 2015 – the real numbers are believed to be much higher. Malak Shaher/MSF Yemen could see a resurgence of cholera if aid remains blocked The coalition’s statement said it would take into consideration the entry and exit of humanitarian supplies and crews, but aid agencies said flights and aid shipments had already been stopped. In some areas, the impact can already be seen on the ground, with fuel and gas prices in Sana’a reportedly soaring.   The International Committee of the Red Cross said a shipment of its chlorine tablets – necessary for fighting cholera – had been denied entry. It is also expecting 50,000 vials of insulin by next week, and ICRC Regional Director for the Near and Middle East Robert Mardini said the medical aid couldn’t wait at a shuttered border as it must be kept refrigerated.   “Without a quick solution to the closure, the humanitarian consequences will be dire,” Mardini said in a written statement.   Médecins Sans Frontières recently reduced its involvement in the cholera response following a decrease in suspected cases, but Justin Armstrong, head of MSF’s mission in Yemen, told IRIN that if the restrictions are not lifted soon there’s “a very valid concern” that the outbreak could worsen again.   Armstrong pointed out that a large proportion of Yemen’s population relies on trucked water for safe drinking, but distribution may be limited with the run on fuel and increase in prices. “If people take greater risks in terms of how they get their water, this could lead to a resurgence of cholera,” he told IRIN.   Lack of food   Getting aid and commercial imports into Yemen was a challenge before this shutdown , and throughout the war rights groups have repeatedly accused the Saudi-led coalition of delaying and diverting aid into the country. The Houthis have also been accused of confiscating aid and limiting humanitarian access, especially in the besieged city of Taiz.  The country’s main port, Hodeidah, has long been operating at low capacity due to airstrikes knocking out four of its five functioning cranes in August 2015. Most commercial ships won’t dock there given the long and expensive wait times i[...]

Seed banks help Zimbabwe’s farmers tackle climate change

Tue, 07 Nov 2017 16:13:30 +0000

“Seed security is food security” is something of a mantra in developing world agronomy circles. In Zimbabwe, the adage is gradually being put into action by promoting the use of indigenous small grains threatened with extinction by the dominance of maize, both in fields and on dinner tables. This dominance has left indigenous small seeds such as millet, cowpeas and sorghum as bit players in Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector, despite their greater resilience to weather shocks such as drought, which are occurring with increasing frequency and severity in Zimbabwe because of the effects of climate change. Such small seeds also tend to require fewer of the expensive inputs required by commercial hybrid maize. John Misi, the administrator of Mudzi District, in Mashonaland East Province, explained that getting farmers to use small grains “has been a challenge as maize is our staple food, and as such people are used to planting maize in this community.” For example, most of the land farmed by Jameson Sithole, a smallholder in a marginal and dry area of Chipinge, in Manicaland Province, is planted with maize. He sows just two of his 17 hectares with indigenous small grains. “Maize is a cash crop such that I am able to sell without challenges, helping me to send my 10 children to school and buy equipment for my farm,” he told IRIN. “With small grains it’s different. But l need to supplement my maize stocks when they run out and feed my family during drought.” One hurdle standing in the way of greater use of indigenous seeds is their relative lack of availability.  Whereas farmers tend to buy maize seeds from commercial suppliers, 95 percent of all other kinds of seed are obtained from their own crops or those of fellow farmers. Community spirit Seed banks can help to solve this problem. Community seed banks tend to work along the same lines as money banks: farmers take out loans of seeds, which in many cases are donated by the local community, and then repay the loan in kind with interest after they harvest their crops. Seed banks typically consist of small dark rooms protected from the heat of the sun and filled with shelves of pots and bottles containing a wide range of indigenous seeds, including, in the case of Zimbabwe, millet, cowpeas and local varieties of maize. According to an April 2017 paper on the evolution and role of seed banks in several countries around the world published by Development in Practice, such facilities help “enhance the resilience of farmers, in particular of communities and households most affected by climate change.” This is because they can “secure improved access to, and availability of, diverse, locally adapted crops and varieties, and enhance related indigenous knowledge and skills in plant management” – including seed selection and distribution. Jameson Patricia Muchenje, a smallholder farmer in the district of Rushinga, in Mashonaland Central Province, is a case in point. “In our community we are working towards keeping and protecting our small grains from disappearing through our community seed bank,” she told IRIN. “We have been working together, teaching each other on planting the right seeds and use the best farming techniques.” She added that she and other farmers in her neighbourhood were soon hoping to sell seeds from the seed bank “to enable us to get some income, which we can use to upgrade our seed bank infrastructure or start our income-generating projects such as market gardening or poultry projects." Marjorie Jeke, a farmer in Murehwa District, in the neighbouring province of Mashonaland East said: "In the event that there are floods and our crops don’t do well in the field, the seed bank becomes useful as I will go back to the seed bank and retrieve my seeds for free to replant. “I don’t have to struggle borrowing from neighbours, or to bother my children with money because the seed bank has made it easier for us to surviv[...]

"People are dying every day" – CAR refugees fleeing war suffer in Congo

Mon, 30 Oct 2017 08:15:02 +0000

The camps of ramshackle mud-brick shelters line the banks of the River Ubangi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Inside, refugees from Central African Republic are suffering: from heat, from hunger, from disease. At a registration centre in Lembo, a small village in Congo’s Nord-Ubangi province, Esther Youkov’s son was the latest victim. Just one and a half years old, he fell sick with malaria last week. First came the vomiting, then the diarrhoea, then the fever. Youkov approached a local clinic for medicine but couldn’t afford the treatment. Her son died shortly after midnight on the morning she spoke to IRIN. His name was Jean Akalozo. “He died because I am a refugee,” Youkov whispered, struggling for words just a few hours after the funeral. “Here, we have nothing.” After four years of conflict, refugees are once again pouring across CAR’s borders. In five months, 64,000 have fled from towns and villages in southeast CAR to isolated river communities in neighbouring Congo. They are fleeing a country reaching levels of violence not seen since 2013 and 2014, when a coalition of largely Muslim rebel groups called the Séléka took power in a coup, triggering a backlash from a network of Christian self-defence militias called anti-balaka. “The crisis right now has reached the same level as before,” said Balkissa Ide Siddo, Central Africa researcher for Amnesty International. The latest fighting has its roots in the splintering of the Séléka coalition. It began when the group’s leader, Michel Djotodia, stepped down as president and its fighters left CAR’s capital, Bangui, in January 2014. It escalated in late 2016 when a coalition led by one ex-Séléka faction – the Popular Front for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic, or FPRC, began fighting another: the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic, a predominantly Fulani rebel group that refused to join the coalition.                                             The revenge of Ali Darassa Both sides have since committed atrocities against civilians, but in Nord-Ubangi most refugees have fled attacks by the latter, the UPC. Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN Fabrice Nzongba stares across the river to the village of Mobaye, where his son was killed                                                                                     Louis Ndagbia, 58, was sitting outside his house early in the morning on 17 May when UPC fighters arrived in the village of Yama Makimbou. A bullet fizzed past his chest and hit his neighbour, Dieudonne Balekouzou, in the side. He died instantly. In nearby Mobaye, Alexis Panda also fled on 17 May when UPC combatants stormed his village, burned down houses and executed fleeing civilians. He said he saw roughly 100 bodies scattered on the ground that day, and lost two members of his family: his younger brother, Saturnnain Ndagbia, and his cousin, Gaby Agbada. Now “there is nobody left in Mobaye to mourn the bodies,” he said. The conflict spread to southeast CAR after the UN’s peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, negotiated the removal of the UPC and its leader, Ali Darassa, from its headquarters in Bambari. The idea was to create an “armed group-free zone” in CAR’s second largest city. Dislodged from its stronghold, the UPC reorganised in the southeast, an area with no MINUSCA presence that had also been recently vacated by American and Ugandan troops deployed on a mission against Uganda’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). “MINUSCA should have made sure that wherever Darassa went after Bambari the population was safe,” said Siddo. “As far as I'm aware, no measures were taken.” As the UPC moved south it was pursued by the FPRC, working alongside anti-balaka groups it once fought aga[...]

Pastoralism and its future

Tue, 24 Oct 2017 07:26:56 +0000

In dryland areas across the world, tens of millions of people raise domesticated animals on open rangeland. Extreme variations in weather mean such pastoralists have to be highly adaptive and deploy a range of specialised skills. Climate change is making this way of life increasingly precarious. This factfile sets out some of the key issues: What is pastoralism? Pastoralism is a type of livelihood in which income and social status depend mostly on livestock grazed on communal open rangeland where the availability of nutrients and water vary greatly over both time and space. In other words, pastoralists are herders (mostly of cows, sheep, goats and camels, but also of yaks, horses, llamas, alpacas, reindeer and vicunas) who are frequently on the move in inherently unstable environments. This defining characteristic of pastoralism is known as “strategic mobility.” It’s “strategic” because, while appearing aimless or haphazard to the untrained eye, its motive is to enhance production and herd size by ensuring livestock consumes the most nutritional grass available. When this mobility takes the form of regular back-and-forth trips between the same departure and destination areas, it is known as “transhumance”, whereas “nomadism” describes journeys that vary according to the location of the best resources. Pastoralism is therefore a very specialised system that requires extensive social networks and deep knowledge – honed over centuries – of weather patterns, breeding techniques, herd management, and the intricate characteristics of different species of animal and vegetation. Put in economic terms, pastoralism is a complex exercise in the perpetual analysis and management of costs, risks, and benefits. But what is being tested now more than ever is the ability of pastoralists to constantly adapt to changing circumstances. Why is it important? What chiefly distinguishes pastoralism from sedentary agriculture is that, thanks to strategic mobility, environmental variations are (except in times of drought) seen as an asset rather than a problem: If you can move, good grass is always within reach. In dryland environments, pastoralism tends to deliver better food security than crops and produces edible proteins more efficiently than intensive livestock systems. Pastoralist regions are often undervalued or even ignored by national governments. As African countries decolonised in the 1960s, development policies tended to borrow from European models, emphasising “modernisation” and the commercialisation of agriculture and privatisation of pastoral rangelands. Yet the contributions pastoralist systems make to national economies are frequently considerable: As well as supplying meat and milk to growing urban populations, they often provide jobs in the transport and food sectors, for example. How many pastoralists are there? Estimates of the total number of people living a pastoral livelihood vary widely. A 2006 study published by the Food and Agriculture Organization put the number at 120 million, which includes some people who also grow crops (known as “agro-pastoralists”). Of these, 50 million are in sub-Saharan Africa, 31 million in the Middle East and North Africa, 25 million in Central Asia, 10 million in South Asia, and five million in South and Central America. Not long after the FAO published its study the International Fund for Agricultural Development said there were 200 million pastoralists in the world. A 2007 estimate put the number of animals raised in pastoral production systems in Kenya alone at 14.1 million, with a value of $860 million. Why is it under threat? In many parts of the world, government policy poses significant hurdles for pastoralists. For example, a 2015 paper by the Forced Migration Review explains how the governments of Oman and Mongolia “encourage settlement or provide only limited support for customary mo[...]

Why can’t booming Ethiopia handle this year’s drought?

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 09:59:30 +0000

Ethiopia can’t seem to escape the blight of drought, no matter how hard it tries. Despite impressive economic growth and decades of capacity building, it faces another humanitarian crisis as one of the worst droughts in living memory scorches the Horn of Africa. At the beginning of the year, 5.6 million Ethiopians were in need of food aid, primarily in the south and southeast of the country. That number recently jumped to 8.5 million. An additional headache is that this year’s response by the government and international partners is proving less decisive than last year’s effort. In 2016, more than 10 million people were reached, food aid poured in, and the government spent hundreds of millions of its own money averting a major humanitarian catastrophe. Why are the numbers in need increasing? The January estimate of 5.6 million came from the government’s Humanitarian Requirements Document, an annual assessment in collaboration with international partners detailing Ethiopia’s humanitarian needs. The revised figure followed spring rains in April that petered out too soon, taking any hopes of revival with them. “The situation is unprecedented,” said Sam Wood, Save the Children’s humanitarian director in Ethiopia. “That was the third failed rainy season in a row, so it’s a cumulative effect of failed rains hitting vulnerable communities. “Ethiopia has made lots of progress, but when you have a problem of this sort of scale, duration and scope, any system is going to be overwhelmed.” Adding to concerns is the chance the Hagaya/Deyr short rains (October to December), accounting for up to 35 percent of annual rainfall in the southeast, could prove a dud too due to the continuing El Niño effect.   The current humanitarian bill is $1.26 billion. So far only $334 million has been received. Why the cash shortfall? At the beginning of the year, the UN warned that 20 million people were at risk of starvation in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and northeast Nigeria. “Aid budgets from donor countries have already committed most of their funding responding to other conflicts or disasters for this year, and this resulted in less funding for drought-affected people in Ethiopia,” said Geno Teofilo with the Norwegian Refugee Council. “There is also donor fatigue regarding droughts in East Africa,” he added. Others note how droughts don’t seize the public imagination to the same extent as disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, meaning there’s less motivation to delve into one’s pockets. This year, the Ethiopian government has committed $147 million compared to last year’s unprecedented $700 million. “The government has many development demands,” Mitiku Kassa, Ethiopia’s state minister of agriculture and commissioner for its National Disaster Risk Management Commission, told IRIN. “If we divert too many funds to humanitarian needs, it will be difficult to continue growth, so we have to request support from the international community.’’ What are the consequences on the ground? Pastoralists in Ethiopia’s Somali Region, bearing the brunt of this drought, have lost hundreds of thousands of sheep, goats, and camels. Often whole flocks have died, representing a family’s entire livelihood, leaving people no choice but to retreat to makeshift settlements, surviving on aid from the government and international agencies. A survey conducted by the International Organization for Migration between May and June 2017 identified 264 of these sites containing around 577,711 internally displaced persons, or IDPs. Overwhelmed by numbers and additionally challenged by diminishing funds, aid agencies began cutting food rations and faced running out of money entirely this July, until last minute donations from Britain, the EU, and the United States guaranteed food shipments through to the end of the year. At t[...]

In their own words: How drought is bringing despair to Kenyan herders

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 12:29:34 +0000

Turkana is one of several arid counties in Kenya in the throes of a prolonged and extreme drought. Most people in these areas raise livestock for a living, grazing their sheep, goats, cows, and camels on open rangeland. Usually, two annual rainy seasons ensure there’s enough grass to keep the millions of animals healthy. But this year, hundreds of thousands of animals have died of hunger, thirst, and disease. IRIN spoke to several Turkana residents about the impact the drought was having on their lives.   Lucas Lotieng Fredrik Lerneryd/IRIN Since we met four years ago most of my livestock has died, I only have five animals left. I had 250 goats and 50 sheep. They died because of the drought – they had nothing to eat. Normally, we take our animals to graze on the hills, but you can see there is no grass there now. When I was young, we could predict when the rains would come – we knew it would fall after six months. When I had animals, we had enough to eat. We used to eat meat and drink milk and sometimes the blood of sheep and goats. We would only sell livestock when we were hungry – during the good times when they could graze well we did not sell them. There has always been drought, but this one is the worst in my lifetime because it has killed so many animals, and the problem is spreading to humans – we are getting sick. Recently, there were showers for just three days, and the grass started growing for about a month. But that was not enough for the animals to grow healthy. It is like this everywhere in Turkana. If it rains, I will get more animals if my daughter gets married and I get a bride price. If it doesn’t rain, I will be left with nothing. If I could talk to the county governor, I would tell [him] about our way of life and ask him to help us with maize. We need development, to have more bore holes so that we can start farming. I would like to both farm and raise livestock. I see things are changing and the changes that are coming make me sad. If we old ones die, everything will change, the younger ones will move away from the life we have lived. The way we used to live was good. We lived a free life. We could go where we wanted.   Ewoton Epeot   Your browser does not support the video tag. I was born in 1947 and I grew up here. My father worked this plot of land and also raised livestock. Now my husband is dead and I have no sons to help me. There are only widows who work this land. Sometimes, animals come and destroy our work so we have to chase them away. Before, I also had livestock. I would buy animals by selling the surplus from my crops. But over the past three years, when the drought came, it took all my animals; they died of hunger, including the newborns, so I stopped being a pastoralist, and I only farm now. When there was no drought and I had livestock, life was good. When the animals gave birth, we had milk. We ate our crops and gave the chaff to the animals. Now there is only hunger – I have nothing to eat. We receive a cash transfer of Ksh5,000 ($50) every three months – I am not sure who pays it. We would like to get the money more often. People depending only on that money will die of hunger. Earlier this year I planted maize on this plot but it became infested with insects, so we had to dig up the maize and destroy it. Now we will plant sorghum. When we have finished working the soil, we will open up the channels to let in water [from a nearby borehole]. It’s hard work – it takes two months just to plough and sow the land. When I feel hungry I go and look for wild fruit. But when you eat that every day, you get diarrhoea. We only eat it because we are hungry. If the government wants to support us, they should buy livestock for us or give us some food. But they should give it to us directly, not to the village elde[...]

Drought pushes Kenya’s pastoralists to the brink

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 12:12:11 +0000

Even at the best of times, the people of Turkana live on the edge. Almost all of the 1.3 million inhabitants of this arid county in northwest Kenya endure extreme poverty. Malnutrition rates are among the highest in the country. Since much of the land here is unsuitable for agriculture, most of the population raises livestock, herding animals long distances to find good pasture and plentiful water. These days, both resources are in catastrophically short supply. Long dry spells and occasional droughts have always been part of the rhythm of pastoralism here, but Turkana, like much of east Africa, is currently nine months into one of severest droughts in living memory.   Your browser does not support the video tag. In February, when 23 of the country’s 47 counties were affected, and after the number of food insecure people had more than doubled, from 1.3 million to 2.7 million, the Kenyan government declared a national drought emergency. Since then, the situation has worsened considerably. The annual “long rains”, which usually fall between March and May, ended early. It was the third successive poor or failed rainy season. By August the number of food insecure Kenyans – those lacking access to food sufficient to live a healthy life – had risen to 3.4 million. According to a flash appeal published in early September by OCHA, the UN’s humanitarian aid coordination body, half a million Kenyans fall into the category of “emergency” food insecurity. In Turkana, “very critical” rates of global acute malnutrition (one of the key indicators of humanitarian crises) of up to 37 percent or above have been recorded in some areas – more than double the emergency threshold of 15 percent. This is largely a result of higher food prices and a reduction in milk and food supplies. Dying animals and vanishing vegetation “Turkana is the epicentre of the drought,” Chris Ajele, director of the county’s ministry of pastoral economy, told IRIN in late September in Lodwar, the county capital. The drought “has rendered some families destitute”, he said. “In Turkana, the economy revolves around pastoralism,” he explained. “People attain their daily requirements through the sale and consumption of livestock.” In arid counties like Turkana livestock usually accounts for some 80 percent of a household’s income through sales of animals and milk. Livestock also represents a considerable store of wealth: Many herders with few other possessions aside from a wooden stool, a knife, and some cooking utensils own 100 or more goats and sheep, each worth around $60. Camels are worth more than 10 times as much. “We have lost about half a million head of livestock [in Turkana] – mostly sheep and goats, as well as cattle and some camels,” Ajele said. High rates of livestock death have also been recorded in the counties of Isiolo, Laikipia, Marsabit, and Samburu. This is mainly because the animals don’t have enough to eat. According to a chart complied by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, things are only going to get worse in the months to come: In the map for November 2017, almost the entire country is shaded red, indicating “extreme vegetation deficit”. Just last year, foraging conditions in most of the country were either “normal” or “very good”. Food and Agriculture Organization Forage conditions worsened dramatically in 2017 And the longer a drought lasts, especially when coupled with over-grazing, the greater the risk that subsequent growth and reproduction of the grasses eaten by livestock will be compromised. There is strong correlation between foraging conditions and levels of human malnutrition. “Drought is a part of life for pastoralists, but whereas they used to h[...]