Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Kenyans battle cattle-raiders and drought.
By Tim Cocks BBC News, Kenya.

Kenya's Turkana people have long struggled with poverty and deadly cattle-raids. Now a severe drought threatens them with starvation. The Turkanas are known for their colourful necklaces. On the shores of Kenya's biggest lake in the north-west, all but a few live a subsistence life, herding goats in one of East Africa's poorest and most neglected places. Like pastoralists the world over, the Turkana have found themselves increasingly edged out of greener lands by agricultural peoples, leaving them hemmed into an inhospitable environment. Insecurity plagues the region, with cheap, easily available AK-47s putting a deadly edge on traditional conflicts between the Turkana and neighbouring groups. Heavily armed cattle-rustlers from Karamoja, on the Ugandan side to the east, and the Pokot, to the south, attack Turkana villages and often leave a trail of dead in their wake. Retaliations are swift and just as brutal.

International aid agencies have launched a massive appeal to save millions across East Africa from famine and emergency relief aid is pouring in. But aid workers say more can be done in the long term to improve the livelihoods of people in this drought-prone region.

Turkana's drought in pictures

Like their close cousins, the Maasai, the Turkana are a tall, dark and slim people, easily identifiable by their elaborate jewellery, piercings and colourful bead necklaces. To maintain their traditional lives, they need pasture for their growing herds to graze. But with drought drying up the already thin vegetation, thousands of livestock whose milk, blood and meat the Turkana depend on for their survival, have died. "It's never been this bad before," said Chegem Epeyon, from Nandanpal village, who doesn't know his age but thinks he is about 60. "Livestock and people are dying. People are drinking dirty water from the muddy riverbed and getting sick."

Famine has already claimed human lives. Lea Emathe brought her one-year-old daughter Juma to a hospital in the town of Lodwar after she became sick from malnutrition. "She started losing weight and coughing all the time. She was really sick," Mrs Emathe said. "We don't have enough food, so I didn't produce enough milk for my baby." Lea Emathe's daughter Juma died two days after this photo was takenEmaciated and too weak to move, the nurses put Juma on an emergency drip. But the help came too late. Two days later, she succumbed to hunger and died on her hospital bed. "We've seen a lot of these malnourished children coming in like this," said Alice Akalapatan, senior nurse at the hospital. "There's little we can do once they get this bad. They urgently need more food in their homes."

Thanks to a rush of emergency food aid for east Africa, a widespread famine is likely to be averted. But aid agencies say they are still short of funds and warn of a catastrophe if the season's rains, expected March-May, fail like last November's did. As droughts get more severe throughout Africa, some blame global warming.


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