‘It is so dry. There is no food in sight.’

Unrelenting drought in Kenya and across the Horn of Africa is having tragic consequences for children like Ekatorot, who is critically malnourished. World Vision is escalating its response as the crisis deepens and puts lives on the line.

By Kari Costanza. Photos by Lucy Murunga. Edited by Rachael Boyer, World Vision U.S.
Published August 17, 2011 at 12:00am PDT

Protected from scorching sunshine in a room built by the community, Rose Epem watches her son, Ekatorot, taste Plumpy’Nut™ from its square, silver package. Plumpy’Nut™ is a nutritionally fortified paste designed to provide fast relief to malnourished children.

Mother and son sit in the appetite test corner of World Vision’s outpatient therapeutic program, Ekatorot’s weight balanced on his spindly legs.

Rose’s husband is unemployed, like so many in Turkana. She burns charcoal to try to make a few shillings. Most of her children have now dropped out of school. And her youngest, Ekatorot, is so small. The 2-year-old weighs 21 pounds. He eats the Plumpy'Nut™, bit by bit, like a baby bird.

‘Situational depression’

Ekatorot passes the appetite test. He can eat. He will be sent home with 28 packets of the nutritious peanut-based therapeutic food that doesn’t have to be mixed with water, which is important, since it’s a two-mile walk for most local families to get water.

“I feel optimistic,” Rose says. “He'll bounce back,” she says. Her words are hopeful, but her eyes belie her. Bouncing back depends on so many factors: rain, planting, harvest, and food.

Lincoln Ndogoni, psychosocial advisor for the East Africa region, says the drought is taking its toll on people — especially mothers.

“This is situational depression,” he says. “You have no energy to do anything. For a mother, the worst thing is to not be able to take care of a child.”

(Check out images recently taken by World Vision’s Jon Warren at Dabaab camp in Kenya, the world’s largest refugee camp with more than 400,000 displaced persons.)

Rose and her son, Ekatorot, sit with a bag of Plumpy'Nut packets between them. They received 28 packets of the nutritious peanut-based therapeutic food, which is designed to fight malnutrition.

‘I’ve never seen drought like this’

Without rain for the crops, food prices have gone up, particularly for maize. Rose usually earns just 100 Kenyan shillings (about $1 U.S.) from her charcoal sales, but maize for the whole family costs 160 shillings.

That means her family must live on just two-thirds of what they need to survive.

“I've never seen a drought like this,” she says, as little Ekatorot chews on the Plumpy’Nut™ wrapper, finding every last drop. “We’re not sure about tomorrow.”

Several women have joined Rose in the appetite corner with their tiny babies. They chime in, agreeing with Rose. “The sun is so hot. It is so dry. There is no food in sight.”

Other effects of hunger

Ekatorot receives Plumpy’Nut™ through our outpatient therapy program, but his entire family receives food as well from a general distribution that benefits 37,000 people in Turkana East and South. When the whole family receives food, there is less of a temptation to share Ekatorot’s Plumpy’Nut™ with the other children.

The drought has created a breeding ground for disease, with an outbreak of measles in four Turkana divisions. School attendance is down, with school-aged children doing mining instead of attending class.

But one thing that has risen is the number of malnourished children.

“Malnutrition rates are going through the roof,” says World Vision’s Thomas Okollah. In June, nearly 29 percent of the children under age 5 were recorded as being at risk — almost one in three children.

Scenes of utter desperation are common as residents of Kalapata village, Kenya, turn out in large numbers to receive emergency food aid.

‘Children do not have to die’

World Vision has been working steadily since March to bring food and medicine to the people of Kenya, and has been trucking in water since December 2010.

We are working on long-term solutions as well — rehabilitating boreholes and shallow wells, and providing water storage tanks.

The early start was necessary in the Horn of Africa. “Over 2 million children are at risk of starvation,” says Charles Owubah, World Vision’s regional leader. “It is feared that about 500,000 could die if adequate help does not come as needed.”

We are stepping up our response to the drought, with a goal of raising an additional $100 million to help save lives in the region.

“Droughts will always be with us, but truly, children do not have to die,” says Owubah.

In Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia, World Vision is working to prevent that from happening.

Learn more

Read the latest updates on World Vision’s response to the drought and food crisis in the Horn of Africa.

Check out “When do we eat?” This World Vision resource is designed to help children understand the causes of world hunger, and what they can do about it.

Four ways you can help

Please pray for Ekatorot and his family, as unrelenting drought continues to put children like him at risk of malnutrition and even starvation. Pray that rain would come, and with it, relief for those who are suffering most.

Make a one-time gift to our Horn of Africa Food Crisis Fund. Your donation will help provide emergency food and care to children and families suffering from hunger and malnutrition, as the worst drought in 60 years rages on.

Give monthly to provide support for children affected by hunger worldwide. Your monthly contribution will help bring assistance like emergency food aid, clean water, agricultural assistance, nutritional training, and more to those in greatest need.

Sponsor a child in East Africa.. Your love and support for a child in need will help provide essentials that will equip him or her to better cope with disasters, like the ongoing drought and food crisis.