Horn of Africa Drought Updates

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Posted on 4/11/2012
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Update 2012-4-11 | Kenya and Ethiopia

Things have stabilized somewhat in Kenya and Ethiopia, the two drought-affected countries where ChildFund works. The rains came. Some crops grew.

Still, the drought has extended — and will continue — well into 2012. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), reports that the March-to-May rains, the primary of the two rainy seasons in the Horn, are expected to be “about 10 percent below average and poorly distributed.” The report states a low expectation for further improvements in food security in the region.

In December, U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos described the ongoing crisis in the Horn of Africa as the largest in the world. Acknowledging some improvements, she added, “the situation remains fragile, and organizations will only be able to sustain these improvements if the current level of assistance is maintained.”

With our supporters’ help, ChildFund will continue its lifesaving work in Kenya and Ethiopia for as long as it takes.

Field Dispatch 2012-1-31 | KENYA – Improvements and Amplified Challenges

ChildFund continues its supplementary feeding program through 522 Early Child Care and Development (ECCD) centers, where we serve nearly 48,000 children and about 7,600 pregnant and nursing mothers. Local communities are adding their support with in-kind help, including firewood, assistance with preparing meals and sometimes water for cooking and washing. Overall, improvements are noteworthy: According to preliminary reports by UNICEF, global acute malnutrition rates have fallen significantly, from 37 percent to 14 percent, and severe acute malnutrition is down from 9 percent to 3 percent.

Still, challenges remain. Heavy rains in November and December led to flooding and displacement of many people. Roads have been damaged by flooding, and this slows delivery of needed goods and services and makes transportation more costly.

Although the floodwaters have subsided, water quality remains poor, especially in surface water and shallow wells. People with no other water source are drinking unsafe water from flooded areas, putting themselves at risk for waterborne diseases. Also, many areas in the region are now marshy and stagnant, which increases the risk of malaria and waterborne illness and may reverse gains in children’s health. Hygiene and sanitation are thus top priorities.

ChildFund has responded with interventions to track water needs, providing both schools and families with water storage vessels and water treatment chemicals as well as training in hygiene and sanitation.

Field Dispatch 2011-12-21 | Yilma Tibeso, ETHIOPIA – Surviving the drought

Birtukan, 10 and a student in third grade, lives in Ethiopia’s Siraro district with her parents, three brothers and two sisters. This year’s drought resulted in crop failure and left her family short of food. Without even a marginal harvest, the family can’t trade or buy the most basic food to eat at home, let alone save important seed for next year’s planting.

Birtukan remembers better years, with better harvests. “We eat three to four times every day during normal times, but we started to eat only one or two times a day because we didn’t have enough food. My father started working as day laborer and bought food so we could eat every day.”

In Ethiopia’s Siraro district, Birtukan and her family benefited from ChildFund’s emergency response to the drought.

Anicha, Birtukan’s father, supported the family by raising livestock and growing maize. Right now, he has only two sheep and two and a half acres of land. Because he has no oxen for plowing, he borrows from his brother and other neighbors to cultivate his land. During normal seasons, he used to harvest as much as 12 tons of maize annually. A ton of maize brings US$35. In 2010, Anicha harvested only two and a half tons of maize, which served his family for only four months.

The poor harvest frustrates Birtukan and her family, making them increasingly desperate. “Most of the time I went to school without eating, and I felt hungry and weak in class. It was hard to listen to the teacher, and to read and understand. My mother, father, sisters and brothers started losing hope.” she says.

The emergency response started by ChildFund Ethiopia in August 2011 averted a potential catastrophe. The five local operational areas of ChildFund Ethiopia, including Birtukan’s community, have been targeted for emergency food distribution effort in Siraro. Birtukan and her family were screened for emergency food assistance, and her sister Bontu, 3, and her brother Hamde, 4, tested as malnourished, so they began to receive supplemental feeding as well as health care. The whole family receives a general food ration, as well.

Today, Birtukan’s family’s situation is better. “Now we are receiving enough food every month,” she says. “My sister’s and brother’s lives have been saved, and I am able to get my work done without any worry.”

“The food shortage as a result of the drought in the district severely affected my family,” Anchia, the father, says, “and the emergency response by ChildFund Ethiopia saved my family. If I were not screened for the food aid program, I would have lost my children.”

Now, children are healthier and more alert in school, and adults go about their daily routines. The numbers of malnourished children and pregnant and nursing mothers have fallen significantly. Still, the challenges of mitigating future shocks such as drought and alleviating their effects requires the ongoing support of local government, communities and organizations like ChildFund and its partner, Siraro Child and Family Development Association.

Field Dispatch 2011-11-03 | ETHIOPIA – Signs of hope amid continuing food insecurity

The nutritional status of children in the Siraro district continues to improve as a result of the emergency food distribution by various organizations including ChildFund Ethiopia. Maize, vegetable and bean crops continue to grow, although some were consumed prematurely, and some farmers have begun adding cabbage to their diets. Prices of grains and livestock have begun to level off in some areas. Still, the overall crop status will not be known until the end-of-year crop assessment.

Tight shot of three children

During its August and September relief food effort, ChildFund distributed 495 metric tons of maize, 49.5 metric tons of legumes, 16,500 liters of cooking oil and 46.91 metric tons of nutritious porridge mix to Siraro. The food was distributed to 16,500 beneficiaries, including 4,500 children under 5 and nearly 1,200 pregnant and nursing mothers.

Gutema is a 3-year-old boy who has been receiving the special porridge from ChildFund since May. At that time, he was highly malnourished and very weak, weighing less than 19 pounds. The supplementary feeding saved his life. By September, he had gained almost 4 pounds — a 20 percent increase in his weight. Says his father, Bedaso, “I am really amazed, seeing my child stand upright after 90 days’ crawling on the ground.”

Food is now more available at the household level, and families have begun to feel flickers of hope along with their ongoing worry. “I am very happy to take this food home to my children,” says Jamila, a mother of six, “but my prayer is that the rain will continue and my harvest will be ready in November.”

Working with our local partners, ChildFund is scaling up distribution of supplementary food for the 3,164 children and siblings and 355 mothers recently identified as needing additional support.

Field Dispatch 2011-11-03 | KENYA – Small improvements despite growing need

The number of extremely food-insecure people in Kenya has reached 4.3 million. Maize prices remain unaffordably high for most families, but they have begun a downward trend in some areas. Acute malnutrition rates remain high, but nutritional interventions by government and other agencies, including ChildFund, have made a significant impact: 3,126 children are reported to have recovered from severe acute malnutrition.

Jane Muthama, a caregiver in one of the 635 Early Child Care and Development (ECCD) centers through which ChildFund is carrying out its drought response, sees a difference. “Children are now more lively in class than before the start of the program and are enjoying coming to school as they will get a cup of porridge,” she says.

Field Dispatch 2011-09-12 | ETHIOPIA – New crops are coming but food insecurity remains high

In the Siraro district, the nutritional status of children is showing signs of improvement as a result of the emergency food distribution by various organizations including ChildFund Ethiopia. In addition, maize, vegetable and bean crops are now growing. One concern, though, is that new crops coming up will be consumed prematurely, reducing yield.

ChildFund Ethiopia has begun a second round of relief food distribution, transporting 247.5 metric tons of maize, 24.75 metric tons of legumes, 82.5 metric tons of cooking oil and 23.45 metric tons of nutritious porridge mix to Siraro. The food will be distributed to 16,500 beneficiaries, including 4,300 children under 5 and more than 900 pregnant and nursing mothers.

Further interventions likely will be needed, including rehabilitating water points and pastures and replenishing livestock. The needs will be established in consultation with the community association and local authorities.

In the Sodo/Buee district, more than 22,000 are experiencing food shortage. As part of the response effort, ChildFund Ethiopia is conducting a close follow-up of enrolled children. Working with our local partners, ChildFund is scaling up distribution of supplementary food for malnourished children and mothers who are identified as needing additional support.

There are reports of pest damage to some crops in this district. Thus there is concern that crop production may fall below estimates, further aggravating the food deficit during the course of the year.

Field Dispatch 2011-09-12 | KENYA – Preparing for long-duration drought

The number of extremely food-insecure persons has increased from 2.4 million to 3.75 million Kenyans in the past seven months. Food prices in local markets reached record levels in July, diminishing families’ purchasing power. At the end of August, the World Food Program increased its targeted support to include moderately malnourished children and pregnant and breastfeeding women, by providing cooking oil and ready-to-use supplementary foods.

The water supply situation in all institutions and communities in Marsabit Central, including the town and the district hospital, remains extremely critical. None of the 36 schools and 11 health facilities in Marsabit Central has a reliable source of water nearby. They depend entirely on trucked water, mostly from overstretched sources.

Response by the ChildFund Kenya national office targets 50,000 children 5 and younger as well as pregnant and nursing mothers in the nine affected areas where ChildFund works. We are reaching this population through already existing Early Child Care and Development (ECCD) centers. Current interventions are focusing on three key areas:

  • Nutrition: Providing supplementary food at ECCD centers and nutrition education to parents.
  • Water and sanitation: Improving access to water in the arid and semi-arid areas through trucking of potable water and providing water vessels and water treatment chemicals. To reduce disease risk, ChildFund is also providing hygiene education to all caregivers of children.
  • Health: Continuously monitoring children’s nutritional status, providing vitamin A and iron supplements, deworming and treating minor illnesses. Referring cases that require further attention.

Field Dispatch 2011-09-12 | UGANDA – Flash flooding and landslides damage newly planted crops

Although the drought has not affected Uganda as severely as neighboring countries, communities are worried about future food supplies, following heavy rains that caused flooding in Butaleja district and landslides in Sironko and Bulambuli districts.

The floods destroyed food crops and washed away recently planted seeds. Pit latrines also flooded and contaminated the water sources, leaving residents with water unsafe for human consumption. This has created fertile ground for diseases such as malaria and epidemics like diarrhea, typhoid and cholera. The most affected community is Doho community, with close to 1,400 households in great need of safe water and help with restarting crops.

ChildFund is now working with communities in Uganda to plan for possible food shortages. Community members and parents are considering starting up Early Child Care and Development (ECCD) centers early in October so young children will have at least one meal a day.

In the longer term, ChildFund may support parents in planting potato vines near ECCD centers to supplement food for the children. A primary goal is to sensitize households to the need to store food for hard times ahead and to take extra care with sanitation and hygiene to prevent disease.

Field Dispatch 2011-08-12 | Getachew Tesfaye, ETHIOPIA – ChildFund is providing relief food to thousands

I would like to convey our sincere gratitude to all who are standing by our side at this trying moment, and by the sides of tens of thousands of children and families who are going through the effects of drought in my country, Ethiopia.

The humanitarian situation induced by the shortage of rains for consecutive seasons has affected 4.5 million people in Ethiopia. Some of the children and families are in ChildFund’s operational areas.

Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors and donors around the world, we have been able to provide emergency relief food items to close to 17,000 people in Siraro district alone, which is contributing to the lifesaving efforts. “I will no longer have to sell my things to feed my family because of the timely assistance of ChildFund,” one father, Shabadir, told us.

Not only is ChildFund providing emergency relief items, but our long-term programs continue in the areas of health and nutrition, water and sanitation, education, psychosocial support and economic strengthening. We will continue collaborating with the government, the community and other partners to identify needs and provide assistance.

The food shortage is expected to continue for some months to come — in some cases, up until the end of the year.

Rain is now coming intermittently in some areas of Ethiopia. Because the rain is patchy and not expected to produce food immediately, we will have to wait until after November or December for a post-harvest assessment to know the impact.

Jamela, a mother of six children, said, “I am very happy to take this food home to my children ... but my prayer is that the rain will continue and my harvest will be ready in November.”

Getachew Tesfaye is ChildFund Ethiopia’s program director.

Field Dispatch 2011-08-04 | Jumbe Sebunya, ETHIOPIA – “The local population is in a desperate situation”

Yesterday, I journeyed to the Oromo region, traveling with ChildFund’s national office director, our regional communication officer and others from the Ethiopia office emergency response committee. We met with ChildFund’s local association partner and helped distribute emergency items in the Siraro area.

The Siraro Child & Family Development Association, our partner agency, works in five localities that are the focus of ChildFund’s emergency response, namely Ropi Town, Ropi Sinta, Damine Lemen, Boye Awarkasa and Alemtena Sirbo. Our national office emergency team worked with the Siraro association and local government officials to identify the beneficiaries per locality and amount of food to be distributed. We are assisting 16,500 people, which includes 4,300 children under age 5, and 900 pregnant or lactating mothers.

Even though the Siraro area is drought prone, this year is critically different. We saw delayed agricultural produce with plants at different stages of growth, which means an uncertain harvest in November. Already, the local population is in a desperate situation, especially mothers and children. We also saw the government effort in distributing water to local communities. Each week, water tankers bring in 20 liters of water per adult.

We visited the local association office, had a chat with the staff there and then toured the food storage facilities. We interacted with community leaders as we distributed emergency food items that included maize, beans, a nutritious food supplement and edible oil.

Our staff and partner association, working with a government official, did an excellent job in organizing the distribution center. There were many people, but they lined up in an orderly manner per household groups, providing details of names of food recipients.

ChildFund Ethiopia’s emergency response committee is closely monitoring the ongoing needs of children in Siraro as well as other areas in which we work.

Jumbe K. Sebunya is ChildFund’s regional director for East & Southern Africa.

Field Dispatch 2011-07-28 | Tenagne Mekonnen, ETHIOPIA – “It is getting hard to feed our children”

One of ChildFund’s local partners in Ethiopia, the Belaya Child and Family Development Association, is a community-based organization that covers an area including six densely populated neighborhoods about 250 miles south of Addis Ababa. ChildFund and the association have worked together since 2004 to improve the lives of the 3,900 children enrolled.

Many of these children’s families are struggling due to lack of food. Although it is now the rainy season, the rains have not been enough, and the cumulative effect of years of diminished rainfall has led to a food shortage and skyrocketing prices.

Earlier this year, to improve families’ food security, ChildFund provided them with seeds to grow staple foods, and association staff worked hard to ensure that families kept the produce for feeding their children rather than selling it at market. But those gardens have dried up.

“The lack of rain dried not only our garden but also our coffee, the source of our livelihood,” says one mother. “With no coffee beans to sell, we have no additional income to support our family. Living costs have increased beyond what we ever imagined, and we can’t afford to buy food. If we feed our children one meal today, we won’t be able to feed them a second. Our little ones are malnourished.”

Because the youngest are the most vulnerable to the effects of malnutrition, Belaya staff members are carefully tracking the health of children younger than 5. “The children under 5 are the ones suffering the most,” says the association board chairman. “It is hard for us to see them suffer, but we have no other means of providing for them. Our farms are dry, and we earn very little from what work we can do. In some markets there is nothing to buy.”

“It is getting hard to feed our children,” he says.

ChildFund and the association are providing support through the government health posts, including medicines and food for malnourished children. Some children are also getting supplementary food from the government, which is also doing its best to protect the children and mothers so vulnerable to this drought.

The families welcome this vital support, but they need more.

Tenagne Mekonnen is the Africa regional communications manager, based in Ethiopia.

Children sip from cups
Children receive supplemental food at a ChildFund ECCD Center in Kenya’s Turkana District. Jake Lyell Photography.

Field Dispatch 2011-07-25 | David Kang'ethe, KENYA – Schools are closing, but ChildFund’s ECCD centers remain among the few sources of food for children under 5

This morning we visited Natukobenyo Boarding Primary School, one of the two girls' boarding primary schools in the district. The school has an enrollment of 375 girls but was forced to close today because they ran out of food. As we arrived at the school, the pupils were receiving their end-of-term reports. The looks on their faces made it obvious that the girls, who come from all over the district, were not eager to go home. They knew the food shortage was worse there.

When we visited the school kitchen and pantry, they were empty, the last meal having been prepared and consumed this morning. “There is nothing left here for the pupils, and we cannot keep them around any more,” said the acting head teacher, Mercy. She added that they had done their best to stretch the little food they had.

However, Mercy showed us a little food they have set aside for the eighth-grade pupils, who are preparing to sit for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education in October. She told us the school will open earlier so that the candidates might prepare for the examinations. The adults know that the little reserve might not be enough for the students, but the school board of governors will deal with the problem at that time.

From the school, we traveled to Lochwarengan Village, where we visited Lopeyok, a 32-year-old mother of seven children ages 6 months to 17 years. Her husband is a herder, and Lopeyok is a charcoal burner. She also sells firewood to augment her income. She told us that the current drought has killed all her animals, and now she has to depend on selling charcoal for her livelihood.

For her, providing food for the family is daily struggle, and they normally survive on one meal a day. One a bad day, she said, her family is forced to go to sleep hungry. This day was one of those days.

“I know it will be very painful in the evening for them to sleep without an evening meal,” says Lopeyok. “But I’m happy tomorrow they will be able to get something when they go to the ECCD center, where they will be able to be fed.” The Early Child Care and Development center is supported by ChildFund and is one of the 13 in the community still providing supplementary feeding for children under 5.

David Kang'ethe is ChildFund’s sponsor relations and communications director for Kenya.

Field Dispatch 2011-07-22 | David Kang'ethe, KENYA – Malnutrition rises along with food prices; ChildFund’s ECCD centers offer supplementary feeding for children under 5

Yesterday morning, we visited Lokitaung Central Early Child Care and Development (ECCD) center run by ChildFund in Turkana with an enrollment of 155 children. However, the attendance has shot up to 208 children because it is one of the few centers carrying on a supplementary feeding program. ChildFund supports 13 such ECCD centers in this area, with an enrollment of 2,600 children under 5. ChildFund centers are among the few offering supplementary food to children under age 5 in Turkana, and the number of children keeps on swelling dramatically. Many of the centers have run out of food, and they have closed, leaving thousands of under-5-year-old children in danger of starvation.

The drought is also causing primary schools to close earlier because they are running out of food. Napetet and Natukobenyo primary schools in Lokitaung Division, Turkana North District, are closing today, a week early, because they have no food. The teachers are very concerned about the well-being of the pupils when they go home, where there is no food for them.

We also visited Lokitaung District Hospital, where six severely malnourished children — also suffering from dehydration and pneumonia — have been admitted. The clinical officer in charge told us two children died last month because they were not referred to the hospital in time. From what we can see, malnutrition levels are increasing, with more children falling into the categories of moderate and severe malnutrition.

Food prices have gone up 400 percent in recent months. At the village market, we found out that the price of maize has shot up fivefold. This makes the food out of reach for the local population. To make matters worse, essential foods are not even available in good supply.

David Kang'ethe is ChildFund’s sponsor relations and communications director for Kenya.

Children in the Horn of Africa have been pushed to the brink of starvation by the worst drought in 60 years. Please help now to provide food, water and medical support.