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David's Field Blog: Back in Kenya

By David Morley

After a 20 hour trip from Thanksgiving Dinner at home, it is good to be back in Kenya. I haven’t been here for four years, and driving in from the airport I think back to my last visit.  There had been a drought then, too, and I had gone to Isiolo District in Kenya, to see relief work there.

Isiolo town was flat and dusty.  It reminded me of a frontier town from the American Wild West – except for the two tall buildings in town, a cathedral and a mosque. But in many ways Isiolo is a frontier town, between the lush slopes of Mount Kenya and the parched flatlands of the desert.  We drove along the potholed road through the semi-arid land, underneath the beautiful flat-topped acacia trees, passing shepherds tending their camel herds, and wickedly long thorn bushes.  The grass was parched and the soil looked weak. 

“Is it all like this?” I asked.  “All the way to Somalia?”

My Kenyan colleague laughed ruefully.  “No, it’s even worse,” he said. “You know how most rivers flow into a lake or the ocean?  This one,” he motioned to the brown river beside the road, “this one just disappears into the desert.” 

The year before the rains had failed, and so did the crops. “It happened slowly,” my colleague told me.  “First the early rains failed, and then the late rains, too. Our teams traveling around Isiolo began to see dead livestock in the villages they visited.  First goats and sheep, then even camels began to die.  When livestock begins to die like this, then you know children and parents will start dying, too.”

Our team did a health survey and raised the alarm.  While the international community knew about the drought farther north in Kenya and had started to respond, they were not aware of how badly it was affecting the people of Isiolo. The UNICEF survey showed more than a quarter of the children suffering from acute malnutrition. 

With money from people and governments around the world, we recruited a team and went to work. Isiolo District is about twice the size of Cape Breton Island and has a population of 150,000.  We were able to bring food to more than 30,000 people, treat malnourished children, truck water to schools, and install water tanks and rainwater catchment systems in more than half the schools in the District.  Our teams also repaired community water supplies, distributed school kits to children, and provided money so that the families hardest hit by the drought could purchase new livestock. Things got better.

Now I find myself back in Kenya.  The rains have failed again – and the failed state of Somalia has made the situation even direr for families here.  Once again, this is the worst place in the world to be a child.  Once again, people around the world have rallied in the face of this suffering.  And once again we are in a race against time to save lives.

Tomorrow we go to Dadaab.

David Morley is sharing updates from Kenya

Read David's blog posts

What do higher food prices mean for the world's poor?

The Dadaab refugee camps

The End of an Era

Camels in Riba

Wajir District Hospital

Somalia Briefing

Follow @DMorleyUNICEF

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