Maasai feel brunt of West's crisis in giving

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The Independent Online

The smell of burning charcoal wafts from the little maasai homes made of stick and animal skins, where large families crowd around small pans taking the little food that is available.

Outside the skinny remains of their herds hunt in vain for a blade of grass in a once fertile and rich land that it now blown with dust.

Drought has descended on Kajiado, Kenya and despite the presence of grey clouds rolling over the African sky the rain refuses to come.

As drought erodes livelihoods and lives in Kenya, foreign aid that traditionally would provide a safety net is also fading away. The reality of Western governmental budget cuts is nowhere more evident than on the remote Maasai plains of Kajiado where the presence of charities - like the clouds that refuse to rain - seem like a cruel joke.

“It is sad there is a crisis here, but there is also a crisis in the West.” Anna Kukuni of the local Kenya NGO Neighbour’s Initiative Alliance (NIA) said. The two crises are very different: Kenya is in the midst of years long drought that has seen dead camels and elephants litter the dry ground, a rise in malnutrition levels and the imminent threat of death for people, like the iconic Maasai, who have no water or food for themselves or their dying livestock. The industrial world's crisis is of a different order, a recession that has cost some their homes, many more their disposable income and punctured for others their feelings of financial security. Despite the vastly different realities in which they are unfolding there is an echo of East Africa's droughts that can be heard on the high streets of the UK.

Tea prices are soaring in the Britain as the harvests fail. The echoes that bounce back the other way are louder and more threatening.

The West’s recession is creating an aid shortage. Programmes like NIA’s food voucher scheme - run in partnership with Irish charity Concern - that provide hungry, vulnerable maasai with food and life essentials, whilst boasting the local economy by using local suppliers instead of airlifting in food that floods the market, is under threat.

Anna Kukuni said the help NIA and Concern are able to provide is severely limited by their lack of funding. “We would have liked to target as many people as possible, everybody should be in the programme, but we can’t. And honestly the food they are taking is 2,000ksh (less than £20) per family per month- and they share with other families- so it does not last a month.” Mrs Ndapana, a Maasai woman who is currently caring for 10 children, most of whom are orphans she has taken in, said she is very grateful for the food, but that it is not enough for such a large family. However the NIA and Concern are already finding their caseload larger than expected and the funding is not there to increase the quantity of food given to people like Mrs Ndapana and her family.

Louise Finan, Concern’s regional communications officer, explained that “Funding is way down, Concern rely about 50% on general donations from the public and the other 50% comes from government donations.” The government donations have been slashed; Concern lost 23 million Euros in funding this year due to the heavily criticised Irish government’s repeated foreign aid budget cuts. But the Irish government are not the only ones withdrawing aid.

The World Food Programme (WFP), which is principally funded by governments of UN member states, have only raised around a third of its projected total US$6.7 billion aid budget. Marcus Prior, WFP spokesman in Nairobi, said that across the developing world the agency has had to “reduce rations to hungry people, or in some instances entire programmes.” A recent report by the UN claimed that over 1 billion people are hungry in the world, of that 1 billion the WFP can only reach 1 in 10 people, Mr. Prior said, adding that “it is vital that we continue to receive support from those nations that have the resources to make a difference.”

In Kajaido district, the continuation of aid is indeed vital. Malnutrition levels are on the rise, Dr Timothy Sialala who works at a local clinic said “last week we admitted 27 children for supplementary feeding, 11 children for therapeutic.” Joseph Kobia, Concern’s nutrition officer, explained that therapeutic feeding is given to those children who are suffering from severe malnutrition which according to Mr. Kobia means “they are facing imminent death.” Besides the 38 children admitted to the clinic in one week another 100 sick children had to be sent away without treatment because funding is so limited only the most malnourished children can be treated.

Whilst local charities in Kenya continue to worry about the ramifications of the West tightening their belt, the World Food Programme remains positive that the funds will keep coming. “Our donors have been generous in the past when confronted with needs such as the ones we face now in Kenya, and we are optimistic they will be so again.”

For now all the Kajiado maasai can do, as the first spots of rain begin to fall, is look to the heavens and hope that both rain and aid will continue to come.

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