Now Kenya stands on brink of its own famine

Northeast Kenya,Emily Dugan
Saturday 22 October 2011 22:39

While the world focuses on Somalia and the starving refugees pouring across the Kenyan border, Kenya is on the brink of its own famine.

Some 3.5 million people there are at risk of malnutrition. In northern Kenya alone, some 385,000 children are malnourished, together with 90,000 pregnant and breast feeding mothers. These are the forgotten victims of the worst drought in more than half a century. There are no convoys of UN land cruisers; no expansive compound full of willing charities and no global sympathy.

Acute malnutrition in the remote Turkana district near the Ethiopian border already afflicts close to 38 per cent of the population: to declare a famine the number only needs to be over 30 per cent. But the region is so out of the way, so remote that it is hard to confirm the other terrible statistics that meet the international yardstick for famine. The government there insists no Kenyans have yet died in the drought, but the truth is they don’t know. In Turkana, even the death rate is uncertain.

Unlike Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp, where some 400,000 victims of drought are concentrated in one place just nine hours drive from Nairobi, Kenya’s hungry are out of reach, scattered across an isolated region more than 24 hours away from the country’s capital. Some 37,000 people – most of whom are going hungry – spread across Kenya’s largest district: 35,000 square kilometres of harsh, inaccessible land.

Only brittle thorn bushes and graying Acacia trees grow. Emaciated figures - once proud herders of huge numbers of livestock - slump by the road trying to sell scraps of charcoal to passers by that never come. Their last resort in times of hunger used to be the berries on the trees, but these disappeared three months ago. Even the camels - unable to cope with the hunger and thirst - are dying now.

Give a day’s pay for Africa

The famine in the Horn of Africa is now claiming 250 lives a day – and it will get much worse without immediate, substantial aid. The Independent on Sunday is asking its readers, their friends and families to join with its senior staff and each pledge one day’s pay to charity. To join our “Give a day’s pay for Africa” campaign, go to All donations are welcome – to give £5, enough to buy high-energy food supplements to save five children a day, text INDY to 70000. Spread the word on Twitter, using the hashtag #Giveadayspay

* Read more from Emily Dugan in The Independent on Sunday this weekend.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments