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Kenya: pulling families back from the brink

You can see the landscape change on the approach to north-east Kenya. Vast swathes of green become gradually more arid, until nothing but red earth, scattered with piles of rocks and the occasional scrawny tree remain. My destination — the town of Wajir — has the feel of a Wild West frontier to it – dusty, poor and (being so close to the Somali border), dangerous.

Round huts dot the dusty streets. They’re beautifully made with woven twigs for a roof and walls filled in with whatever can be found locally, such as plastic bags, materials and cardboard. Emaciated livestock are tied up outside the huts, their ribs jutting painfully. Children nearby are playing that global favourite — a loud and boisterous game of football.

The communities in Wajir are pastoralists, traditionally moving from one area to another in search of pasture and water for themselves and their livestock, migrating to follow the rains.

But the rains have failed in north-east Kenya, and this, coupled with restrictions to move across the border into Somalia and weak governance, means that the pastoralists are facing a battle to survive this drought, and are increasingly remaining near urban centres in order to access aid.

The people here knew the drought was coming. So did we. But seeing a car crash coming doesn’t mean you can stop it. All we could do was try to reduce the damage it caused by building resilience in the community. We do this by:

  • supporting local markets by providing cash transfers to families so they can buy goods locally and support local farmers
  • working to improve access to water and
  • providing emergency aid when it’s needed .

It’s not enough, and being out here in the bleached landscape, with so many hungry people, I feel that perhaps it will never be enough. Communities can’t and shouldn’t have to depend on emergency food aid and trucked water to survive, year after year.

Reducing vulnerability to disaster

Save the Children is working to reduce vulnerability to disaster. Poor families in north-east Kenya live on a cliff edge. If anything fails, the cliff starts to crumble — if food prices rise, if the rains fail, if the drinking water runs out.

We’re working to pull them back from the cliff edge permanently by ensuring livelihoods are strengthened, food sources are adaptable to the changing climate, and water sources are sustainable. It’s long-term, unsexy and under-funded work. But it’s vital.

Find out more about how we’re helping families affected by the drought in East Africa

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