Voices

Food crisis in Kenya: 5 signs of hunger I’ve never seen

A first-hand look at signs of hunger in Turkana, Kenya, and how the East Africa food crisis is changing the lives of people there.

The East Africa food crisis is monstrous: affecting 25 million people and showing up in ways our writer and photographer team have never before seen.

Today, our writer — Kari Costanza — gives you a first-hand snapshot of five ways that hunger is changing the lives of people in Turkana, Kenya.

*     *     *

I started covering hunger stories for World Vision in 2005 in Niger and Angola, which were then ranked second and third among countries where children were most likely to die before the age of 5. The next year, I traveled to Kenya to cover a drought that led to a severe food crisis. In 2009, to see what hunger felt like, I lived with a family that was surviving on emergency food rations. Two years after that, I was back in Kenya to cover the Horn of Africa food crisis.

I thought I’d seen it all.

But on my trip last month to Turkana, in northwest Kenya, there were signs of hunger that I’ve never seen. When I heard that Stephen O’Brien — the United Nations’ under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs — had declared this current crisis the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, I was not surprised.

This hunger crisis is a monster.

We began in a village called Nanaam, dry and dusty and strewn with the bones of dead livestock. Ironically, Nanaam means water, but the villagers had renamed their village Ngikwasinyen, or “dry sand.”

The villagers were despondent. With no food left to eat, men such as Nalet were hunting animals that thrive during a drought in a pastoralist area — scavengers like hyenas and vultures. The mothers had learned to cook hyena, roasting it on a spit. The children hated it and said it tasted vile. Naroo, 9, told me: “Hyena is bitter. When we eat it, it gives us diarrhea. But it’s the only food on the table.”

A first-hand look at signs of hunger in Turkana, Kenya, and how the East Africa food crisis is changing the lives of people there.
Lopeto, 12, holds the dried stomach of a hyena, which the community has started to eat because of the drought. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

Across the dusty path, a family was mourning the death of their last cow, sitting next to the giant animal, and preparing to skin and eat it. Nearby, with no milk, a mother and her children were trying to suck the marrow from the bones of donkeys killed by the drought. I asked them why they were doing that.

“Hunger,” replied the mother.

A first-hand look at signs of hunger in Turkana, Kenya, and how the East Africa food crisis is changing the lives of people there.
Akure with her 4-year-old daughter Ikeno and 2-year-old son Lochuch, who are trying to suck the marrow from donkey bones. The family’s last cow died in the night. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

Traveling south on a road more sand than pavement, we came upon a macabre memorial. Instead of a tree-lined pathway, the road was lined with the bodies of dead animals. “See us,” they seemed to cry.

A first-hand look at signs of hunger in Turkana, Kenya, and how the East Africa food crisis is changing the lives of people there.
The carcasses of dead animals line the road between Lodwar and Lokori in south Turkana, a cry for help from those who live there. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

The people of one village made their point crystal clear. Fifty women held high the animals that had died in their village, one woman boosting a donkey carcass over her head, to sing us a song of death.

“We are dying. We are dying,” they sang. “Our animals are all dead, and we are next.”

A first-hand look at signs of hunger in Turkana, Kenya, and how the East Africa food crisis is changing the lives of people there.
Women hold high the animals that had died in their village, singing a song of death. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

And finally, after reporting stories in 35 countries over two decades for World Vision, I met a baby with my name: Kari. I asked her mother what her name meant and she replied, “Someone who almost died.” Kari was born six months ago as the drought began to kill all the livestock and threaten human lives as well. “I named her for the situation,” Kari’s mother told me.

A first-hand look at signs of hunger in Turkana, Kenya, and how the East Africa food crisis is changing the lives of people there.
Magdalene named her baby girl Kari because of their situation: someone who almost died. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

Meeting Kari was the last straw. I had to do something about it. World Vision is trying to raise $110 million to help 2.7 million hungry people in East Africa with food, water, and medicine, as well as through child sponsorship. They’ve told me their stories. They’ve put a name to this monster. My name. Kari.

I saw Nalet the day after he went off the look for vultures and hyenas. He came back empty-handed and exhausted. “We have no water, food, or medicines,” he told me. “If you don’t take care of these children, they will die.”

And they will. So we must.


Join us in taking care of the children of Kenya and other hungry places in East Africa. Thanks to grants, your gift will multiple 7X in impact to provide emergency food, clean water, and more to children and families fighting for their lives.

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