Here is a picture from the cyclone in Mozambique. I have no idea how these people on the roof are getting food and water. About 835 square miles of homes and fields were underwater. Rescue efforts were totally inadequate since these countries were unprepared for this magnitude of disaster. Cyclone Idai Photo by Paandu

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Kenya famine cycles have shortened from 20 to 12 to 2 years in the last two generations. Rainfall is down 15%. The country is 1.4 degrees celius (2.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer since the 1980’s and the agricultural growing season is growing shorter, perhaps as much as 40 per cent. Irungu Houghton, Standard, March 23, page 16.

Due to the flooding in Iowa and Nebraska, I am not sure how much attention the American media gave to the March 15 Cyclone Idai (for Americans “cyclone” = “hurricane”) that devastated Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.  The cyclone landed over the city of Beira (population, over 500,000) in Mozambique, destroying over 90 per cent of the city. In the three countries over 750 people and counting were killed, thousands missing, three million people affected, homes destroyed, animals drown, and crops destroyed. In some places cholera has broken out and malaria cases have increased. The heavy water-laden storm was to due to abnormally high ocean temperatures in the southern Indian ocean.

As water sources dry up the few remaining ones are overwhelmed with people seeking water. People put their jerry cans in line and rest in the shade to stay out of the hot sun, moving them slowly to the source. Getting water under these conditions can be a whole day affair. Photo from Standard Digital.

Meanwhile Kenya is experiencing drought. In 2017 Kenya and eastern Africa as a whole experienced a severe drought. In Kenya pastoralists fought each other for grass and water and invaded ranches and agricultural land. As rivers dried up, water in dams declined so that hydropower was curtailed and water was available only at best for a few days per week in Nairobi and many other places.

Crops, particularly maize, were hard hit. As a result the government allowed unlimited importation of maize from Uganda, Tanzania and elsewhere. Middlemen in cahoots with the maize marketing board staff, bought maize at 1500/- ($15) per two hundred pound bag and sold it to the government at 3200/- ($32) and were paid promptly. Kenyan farmers on the other hand were locked out and those who did deliver maize weren’t paid for over a year.

In 2017 significant rains began around April 1, somewhat later than normal. In 2018, the rains began at the beginning of March. Some people planted with these first rains under the assumption that the rains would continue. They did and these people got a good early harvest. This was the beginning of a year of flooding. This led to the destruction of roads and bridges, rain soaked fields, and the collapse of the privately owned Patel Milmet Dam near Nakuru which killed 48 people. The lakes behind the dams that produced electricity and water for Nairobi overflowed and excessive water had to be released leading to flooding on the lower Tana River near the Kenyan coast. The excessive rain made 8 latrines at our local Lumakanda Township School collapse and our grand-nephews were home from school for three weeks while the school built new latrines. The good rains led to an excellent maize harvest, but, since the government storage facilities were full from the imported maize, farmer were often unable to sell their maize except at “throw-away” prices to middlemen so that they could pay school fees and other on-going expenses.

“A man looks at the carcass of a cow killed by the biting drought in Gafarsa, Isiolo County. Thousands of Kenyans are facing starvation, according to the National Drought Management Authority.” PHOTO | VIVIAN JEBET | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

The short rains in Kenya occur from October through December. In December 2018, the short rains ended at the beginning of the month and now at the end of March the long rains have not yet arrived. This means that there has been four full months without rain. To compare in 2017-18 the short rains continued through December 2017 and the long rains began in March 2018 so that the dry season was only two months long. Moreover the weather has been much hotter than usual, often with a strong wind blowing up dust. The grass in our front yard has become brown after four months without rain. We are having difficulty finding napier grass to buy to feed our cows.

The Kenyan media reports that eleven people in Turkana County directly north of us have died of starvation. Shawn McConaughey, Friends United Meeting staff in Kenya, is visiting Turkana now and I asked him for an update:

When we were out visiting churches today [Thursday], we noticed how the drought is impacting people.  At one church most of the church folks were gone taking herds as far as 15 kilometers [10 miles] away for water.  At a second church most of the adults were gone to a food distribution site to get food.  We saw two different distribution sites in Lodwar [the capital city of Turkana County]. So someone is getting food up there. There is some fresh produce in Lodwar, but it seems like way less is for sale on the street.  We saw very little. Oh, and it sprinkled a bit last night and some again this morning.  

Over 1.1 million people in 14 counties are reported to be in need of food assistance. Since even when the rains start, it takes months for food to grow, the situation is going to become worse. The current weather forecast for our area of the highlands in western Kenya calls for only modest rainfall at best.

The situation now is that while many people are hungry and need food assistance, the farmers and grain depots are full. Why hasn’t the government used some of this maize to feed those who need it? Although the early warning system in Kenya predicted hunger in the country, the government ignored the warnings. Only now has the government begun to respond to the need. Marshalling the resources and equipment to relieve the hunger takes time, but the response is beginning.


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David Zarembka

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