Travelling through the north-east region of Kenya, the first thing that hits me is the stench.
Rotting animal carcasses dot the road. Animals desperately seeking water and food are collapsing in exhaustion and the local community cannot clear them fast enough.
The animals have starved to death, and there is not even enough meat left on the carcasses to eat.
The sight of dead camels is particularly significant. Prized within pastoralist communities, camels are their livelihoods.
All pastoralist children drink camel milk as their weaning food, they’re used to move whole communities between grazing areas and for their meat. In many cases, adults feed their camels before they feed themselves.
As the Save the Children’s Kenya country director, I’ve seen this before. Frequent droughts ravage the region. Rains are expected, and fail.
And now there is a serious shortage of water and food for children and their families, leading to widespread devastation of farmland, failed harvests and livestock death.
Families have lost their incomes and food supplies. Food and water prices have soared. The ground has cracked here, and swathes of brown land has replaced green.
Pushed to the limit
Pastoralists are used to coping with occasional droughts and dry seasons, but these successive droughts have pushed their resiliency to the limit.
Families are eating only one meal a day at most, and the cheapest food they can find. Without proper, nourishing food, families are weak and vulnerable to disease.
Save the Children is urgently working within these communities, treating malnourished children and pregnant and breastfeeding women, distributing food and water.
But we need to do more.
Pastoralist communities are increasingly leaving their traditional way of life, and moving to urban slums in the hope of finding enough food to survive.
We are on the ground, delivering emergency aid, while also investing in building the resilience of communities in drought-stricken areas – enabling families to cope better and recover faster.
Simple things like giving families money before they have to sell their last goat, or providing meat vouchers which enable people to support their local market and feed their families.
Thousands of people are now on the move, families heading towards Somalia, where there have been rumours of limited rains.
It’s a heartbreaking decision for any family — stay in a reasonably safe area, and risk your children not being able to eat, or move to a highly dangerous place in the hope of finding water and some food.
Food or safety
These people have chosen the latter, and long caravans of thin camels and donkeys trail the way towards Mogadishu, the largest city in Somalia. I can see small children walking within the group.
Children are always the most vulnerable in a food crisis — without enough to eat and the right nutritional balance, they are at high risk of malnutrition.
Malnutrition is serious. It causes stunting, stops children developing physically and mentally, and ultimately causes death. It is one of the biggest killers of under fives in the world.
Save the Children is urgently appealing for more funds, so we can reach the most vulnerable children, and increase these families’ chances of survival.
This post was written by Prasant Naik, Save the Children’s Kenya country director.