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Responding to crisis in East Africa

I remember so well driving through Isiolo, Kenya during the drought in 2006 and seeing all the dead carcasses littering the landscape and the sick and malnourished children.

It seems incredible that it can be worse now.

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Lost livelihoods

It’s easy to underestimate the emotional trauma of losing animals for pastoral people. It’s not uncommon to see families, and particularly men, devastated by the loss of their animals.

Livestock represent economic and social status for pastoralists. Villages and communities have traditionally been built around their animals and even the songs they sing tell stories of their cattle. Animals are the fabric of the community, as well as providing nutrition for their children.

In times of chronic drought, any livestock that are still alive are taken by the men in search of pasture and water. The women and children stay behind, but without the animals one of their few food sources is gone.

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The human face of the crisis

Of course, it’s not just about the animals but the human face of this crisis too. The number of children who are malnourished and at risk is tragic. At the same time, it’s hugely rewarding to see the same children who come to us so severely malnourished getting better.

The situation in East Africa is already critical but the peak of the crisis is still ahead of us. With no rains expected in the coming months, there will be no improvement in food security or water availability. One of our biggest challenges is the complexity of the situation. What we’re seeing is a spike in a chronic situation that oscillates between good and bad years.

It’s not just about a lack of rain but climate change, a lack of infrastructure, population growth, lack of education, governance and food price rises linked to global and regional markets. The lack of rain tips people who are already very vulnerable into a state of emergency.

This emergency started months ago for us. It’s been a long slog getting the message out. In January we issued the first early warning alert. In a region that is often faced with drought it’s difficult to get across that this year is something much, much more critical.

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This post was written by Matt Croucher, Regional Programme Manager (East Africa) for Save the Children.

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