Restoring Hope and Saving Lives in Drought-stricken Communities in Turkana, Kenya

“We used to fall sick all the time. All the time. We would pray for the cholera to go away,” said Helen Nyapid, a Turkana farmer residing in north-west Kenya. ”I am vulnerable. Look at my home. I had no way to support myself,” she added.

Loowoi Lobeyo, a farmer in Helen’s tribe, said: “I used to have cattle and camels, but we were raided by enemies. The animals that survived died during the drought.”

“Without livestock you will face starvation, you will face sickness. You will become worthless,” volunteered Ngitira Etukon Erioka, a Turkana herder.

These are the voices of people of the nomadic Turkana tribes in north-west Kenya. Turkana is among Kenya’s poorest areas, heavily affected by climate change, with limited infrastructure and health-care services. Most of its people have been devastated and displaced by the drought that has affected the Horn of Africa. Like many pastoral and farming communities, the Turkana people’s livelihoods depend on their herds. But those herds began to die because of the drought.

Terence Atami, Project Assistant for IOM’s Livelihood Programme, explained: “Livestock is very important to the Turkana people because it is the main source of their livelihood. They depend on livestock for blood, for milk, for meat. And they also depend on this livestock for cultural practices, like paying dowry. So without the livestock there would be no life in Turkana.“

Due to the drought, the lack of water hampered the tribe’s access to safe water sources. Members of the tribe began to use whatever water was available, including unclean water, thus increasing their risk of disease. Then, unprecedented flooding in August and September 2011 contributed to a cholera outbreak, making the tribe even more vulnerable to disease and death.

“All the water was contaminated. Everywhere there were dead animals and flies and faeces, and everything was being mixed into the water. We had quite a number of people falling ill, having diarrhoea. We had several deaths,” said Grace Kikuli, IOM Emergency Response Coordinator.

CERF and IOM respond

The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) was quick to respond to the drought and other emergencies in Kenya in 2011. CERF gave more than US$22.6 million to UN agencies and IOM in Kenya in 2011. IOM received nearly $300,000 of that amount for health and agricultural projects in Turkana.

With CERF funding, IOM and community leaders provided health education to improve hygiene. Water treatment was secured and disease surveillance conducted. IOM also supported the district and national coordination of diarrhoeal diseases, including cholera preparedness and response. To respond to the drought, IOM supplied emergency food for livestock, households were equipped with drought-resistant seeds, animal health workers were trained on community animal health and the most vulnerable households received local hybrid camels. More than 140,000 people benefited from these projects.

“I was given two camels. I was also given some seeds. I was given a rake. And we also learned how to store grass to keep our animals healthy during future droughts,” said herder Ngitira Etukon Erioka.

“When IOM came, it brought medicine for the children, and it brought medicine for the adults. It also brought medicine for treating water,” added Helen.

CERF-supported projects brought new life for the people of Turkana.

“When the CERF project came, it was about restoring hope. You see hope not only on the faces of these people, but even in their lifestyle you are able to see change. You are able to read life in their faces again,” concluded Terence. 

After losing her livestock to drought and insecurity, Mariah Makwawi survives by burning charcoal. The process takes 7 days to complete, earns her about 500 Kenyan Shillings ($5.50) and is a major contributor to deforestation in the area.  © Dan DeLorenzo/OCHA