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Kenya: the last goat

Wherever I went today, I heard the same story:  “We’re eating only one meal a day, we’re always hungry,” as I travelled through Wajir, in north-east Kenya.

Village to village, hut to hut, everyone says the same. When people are really hungry, and they have no hope of that hunger ending, they develop what people working for NGOs sometimes call ‘negative coping strategies.’

Increasing desperation

These strategies could be anything from deciding to skip a meal, eating less at mealtimes, or resorting to slaughtering their last goat — trading all future income to keep their family alive for one more week. These are strategies to cope with unending hunger, and they are a sign of increasing desperation.

It’s hard to overestimate the impact that slaughtering the last goat has on a family. Goats are the only source of milk for children and their milk the only thing the family could sell. So, the family has now lost a key food source for the family, and its income. The goats also serve as insurance for the future, a sort of safety net. Once that’s lost families often have to move to another village to access humanitarian aid.

In UK terms, by slaughtering your goat, you’ve now lost your food, your home, your job and your pension. Your goats were also your definition of who you are, and what you are. You’ve lost your status in the community, and you’ve lost your identity. You were a goat herder. Now who are you?

Drought: recognisable timeline

I was told today that drought has a recognisable timeline. First the cattle die — they can only eat grass, and there isn’t any left.Then, the goats die — they can reach some trees at least, so they’ll eat those. But the trees are dead, and soon the goats are too. Then the camels die — they can walk without water for days, but eventually even the camels can’t find water. Finally, giraffes — the hardiest of all — able to reach the tallest tree to find food — start to perish.

I have seen countless cattle carcasses today. I have seen many goats, several camels and one dead giraffe. This drought is nowhere near as bad as it’s going to get. We have to act now if we are going to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

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