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Monday, August 22, 2011

Drought in East Africa

On Monday, Samaritan’s Purse delivered 3 tons of food to a small village outside of Garissa. This gift was met with smiling faces and truly meant survival for the community.

From Samaritan’s Purse

As famine spreads across the Horn of Africa, Samaritan's Purse is supplying food and other aid to thousands of hungry families and malnourished children.

More than 12 million people are in urgent need of food, water, and medical care in drought-stricken Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia. Experts estimate that starvation and related diseases have already claimed the lives of over 29,000 children under age five. The United Nations is calling the crisis "the world's worst humanitarian disaster.”

Samaritan’s Purse has a team based in Garissa, Kenya, along the Somalia border, where we are distributing tons of maize, beans, corn-soy blend, cooking oil, and other necessities.
Our team—which includes experts in nutrition, healthcare, water, and sanitation—is reporting that these are some of the harshest conditions they ever have encountered.

“We drove to a local cattle market, and dead animals could be seen all along the road,” a staff member said. “At the market we spoke with local residents who said this is the worst drought they have experienced in living memory. They made a point to mention that ‘even the older generation has never seen a drought this bad.’ Many of the rural residents are flocking to town because of a lack of water and their diminishing animals stocks. At the market, there were several animals writhing on the ground, left to die because they were so badly off.”

Our emergency response includes plans to implement therapeutic care and supplemental feeding programs for malnourished children. In coordination with our local partners, we have identified sites for food distributions and therapeutic nutritional interventions.

In addition, Samaritan's Purse has launched a cash-for-work program in several villages. We are paying people to build latrines, which will help with health and hygiene conditions while providing some income in these poverty-stricken communities.

"If they are in desperate need, they can use the cash for food, but they can also use it for healthcare or other necessities," said Ruco Van Der Merwe, team leader for the response.

Clean water is another dire need. In some areas, only 20 percent of the families have access to safe drinking water. Many people are now forced to walk miles to reach a water source. As populations are shifting toward areas with better access to water, community resources are being severely strained. Our team is using tanker trucks to haul water to vulnerable villages while we identify longer-term solutions such as drilling boreholes.

“Water is such an issue,” said Zeke Rhodes, program officer. “We see women in the middle of nowhere waving their jerry cans, asking for water. It’s not unusual for people to walk 10-15 miles for water.”

The crisis in the Horn of Africa was brought on by two years of drought that is the worst in 60 years. Massive crop failure and loss of livestock have led to extreme food shortages in a region straddling Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia—a region that has been labeled the “triangle of death.”

As a result, hundreds of thousands of people without food and water have fled to makeshift camps in eastern Kenya looking for emergency aid. Many of the displaced are refugees from neighboring Somalia, who left their war-torn country in hopes of finding help over the border. Much of Somalia is controlled by a militant group, affiliated with al Qaeda, that has denied that a food shortage exists and threatened to maintain their ban on food aid.

“We saw a family with a donkey cart. It was a father and mother, an infant, and two daughters,” Rhodes said. “The girls were in bad shape, emaciated, but still able to walk. It was kind of a glimpse at the journey they’ve taken over the last couple of months. They’ve come a long way, and they’re going to a camp of half-a-million people in some of the most harsh environments you could imagine. It was very sobering.”

The camps in Kenya are overcrowded, and resources are stretched beyond capacity. Conditions aren’t much better outside the camps. Samaritan’s Purse church partners are finding households facing dire shortages of food and water.

Some of the worst hit counties include Wajir and Garissa, areas considered the focal point of the Somalia refugee influx. In these areas, particularly where Samaritan’s Purse partners are involved, there is limited government assistance and little help from other agencies.

Please pray for the people impacted by malnutrition and starvation, for our staff and church partners as they respond in the Name of Christ, that the conditions that are causing this catastrophic food shortage will end, and for God's help in meeting the overwhelming needs of the region.

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