“There is lack of water, shortage of food and pasture for animals. Our animals are dying because of lack of pasture and others are dying because of diseases. Little children have died because of lack of water. Some also died because of cholera, typhoid and other diseases.”
So said 12-year-old Shamsa Adan, a student at Wajir Girls Primary School.
I met Shamsa and other students at the school on my last day in Wajir.
Out of the school’s 905 students, Shamsa is one of the 360 lucky ones who has lodging in the school, visiting her family at the weekend.
A typical rural school
It is a typical rural state school, poorly funded by the government but heavily supported by several NGOs. There is stationery from UNICEF, classrooms from Islamic Relief, and water and sanitation facilities from Save the Children.
Every student shared unique insights about the difficult period they had lived through following last year’s drought.
“I come from an orphan family of 11 children,” said Habon Ahmed, student of Class 7. “My father passed away when I was in Class 1 and left my mother to take care of us. We survived the drought by moving in with relatives and also received food rations.”
Habon’s classmate, Zeinab, said, “My family hardly has enough to eat. Sometimes we even sleep without eating anything. Many children also drop out because of the lack of food.”
15-year-old Zamzam shared, “There are 12 people in my family and there was never enough water last year. Water shortage is the major problem because without water nobody can live in this world. Malaria afflicted many people in my village. It is very dangerous, especially for pregnant mothers and newborn babies.”
Responding to drought
Other school children also shared the well-known consequences of droughts and their long-term effects.
These are globally recognised and discussed at important summits, roundtables and conferences across the world.
Yet there is still limited work on the ground to help people find new ways of making a living, to improve public services and infrastructure, or to enhance people’s ability to cope with recurring climate disasters.
As the plane took off from Wajir, I gazed at the sparsely populated arid terrain below, dotted with greenery thanks to the November-December rains last year.
I had met only a handful of people in Wajir, and wondered how many more families like Ameen’s and Dahaba’s (see my other blogs) had lived through the thirst and hunger.
How many people were pushed below the poverty line? How many had lost family members? How many children were orphaned?
I could not help wonder that this is a sad testament to the present world order, that we live under what the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano describes as “twin totalitarianisms: the dictatorships of consumer society and obligatory injustice”.
That for every dollar spent on humanitarian aid, twenty are spent on making guns and bombs.
That billions are flushed out for bailing out corrupt financial institutions yet eyebrows are raised when humanitarian agencies report lack of sufficient funds to feed starving people.
That privileged people like me take for granted the luxuries we enjoy – more food than we can eat, abundant clean water for drinking and washing, the best medical services, education and employment opportunities to live a better life with a healthy bank balance.
That even as we unlock the mysteries of subatomic particles and take tourists into space, one in four of the world’s children are still malnourished and 2.6 million children die of hunger each year: one child every 12 seconds.
On my first day in Wajir, I had met Ameen, an elderly cattle herder displaced in Wajir. At the end of our conversation I had asked what will he do if, God forbid, Save the Children and other agencies stop humanitarian relief work in the region.
“God is great,” he had replied. “He will not forget us.”