Reflections: fasting in famine!

Lunch? We had been working hard. We were hot and tired and our stomachs were telling us it was way past lunchtime. Delicious rice and succulent meat: our mouths watered in joyful anticipation. Then as our taxi stopped our hearts sank. The entrance to the restaurant was closed, tightly secured by padlock and chain. That’s when our driver turned to us and explained, “It’s the fast, you know. We Muslims aren’t eating during the day. We are feeling the pain that the poor people feel.” Ah, yes, Ramadan, the 30 days of fasting, and feasting …

My first introduction to Ramadan was in 1991 when my Muslim friend told me she wouldn’t be able to meet with me during the fast because she would be too busy cooking. I was confused. Cooking during a fast? What kind of fast is this? I learned that during the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast during the day, avoiding all food and drink from sun up to sun down, then when the sun sets they join together as families and friends to break the fast over some of their best foods. They have spicy rice, succulent meat, fruits and special breads during the month of Ramadan. It is like the Christmas dinner for Christians!
Wondering how this year would be different, I engaged our driver in a discussion about the thousands of Somalis who were pouring into the Dadaab refugee camp just east of us in search of water and food for basic survival. Their images are burned into my conscious… malnourished women and children with sunken eyes and boney frames. They make me think of Psalm 22, the passages our Lord repeated when dying on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of the earth. I can count all my bone; people stare and gloat over me.” Our driver was eager to talk, “Yes, they are fasting. They must fast. It is mandatory.” The starving people in Dadaab cannot eat during the day, but they can eat at night – if they have food.
He continued, “In the past the rain came regularly every three months but since the clashes started in Somalia, the rains haven’t come. God is judging us. We have not been faithful” My mind dashed back to Psalm 68: 30 where I had just read David’s prayer, “…Scatter the nations who delight in war.” Yes, the Somalis have been in war for nearly 20 years. In some ways our driver’s perspective resonates as we can see through the Old Testament how God held back rain when the Israelites disobeyed him. Moses gives a warning in Deuteronomy 11:16-17 saying, “Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.” Are the starving Somalis fasting with this perspective? Are they bowing to Allah like disobedient children who submit to the rage of an angry father, beating them because they disobeyed him? What does it mean for a Somali when he says, “God is judging us?” It is a test to be endured silently and fearfully.
What does a Somali mother feel when she leaves her child to die in the sand while she walks on foot across the desert to the refugee camp? She must grieve silently so as not to rouse God’s anger. What does a child feel when his mother has no food for him? He must wait patiently for God’s mercy. What does a young man who has killed a fellow Muslim in the war feel? There is no hope of heaven for him because he has committed an unpardonable sin by killing another Muslim. He would prefer to starve on earth than face God where he knows he will be condemned to eternal punishment for his sins. Like children seeking to appease their raging father’s anger, the Muslim must submit.
Why might David have prayed that God would “scatter the nations who delight in war” in Psalm 68:30? Perhaps he wanted them stop bothering him and run away from him, but perhaps he hoped that in their running the would run toward God. Throughout Scripture we see how God moved nations to accomplish his purposes. He has always desired to reveal himself to those who do not yet know him. This process has seldom been easy. The people who are on the move experience complete upheaval and those receiving them also experience strain. But what if we as the church responded to this as an opportunity to show Christ’s love to those who desperately need it? Will we take them a cup of cold water in Christ’s name? Are we willing to bind up their wounds to lead them to our great physician?
Most Somalis have never experienced the love of the church. They have been cut off from us geographically, with almost no witness within their borders. Church, this is the time to arise and show them the love of Christ. Now, in their hour of need, let us show them the true nature of our gracious Father. The invitation is in Hosea 6:1-3, “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the LORD: let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” Let us welcome the Somalis to the feast.
Jennifer a volunteer serving in the northern Kenya with TSM relief team August 2011


Water! Hope in drought.

TSM is determined to make significant impact and give hope in Wajir. On a recent visit to the town, our relief team reported the visible effects of the drought: ‘Everywhere – dead animals on the side of the road and plants and trees without a single green leaf. The ground water table is dropping and they are on the verge of disaster if the water dry’s out.’ It is only a matter of time before Wajir will look like Somalia. Unless we take action now to get more water to the people, livestock and vegetation many more lives will be lost.

Children staring at a well that is drying up in Wajir.
The failure of rains, causing this drought, is no doubt the trigger of misery in the Horn of Africa. For communities here, livestock is the pivot of life. Pasture and water are invaluable resource. The situation in northeast Kenya will surely become extremely dangerous if water is not restored to the ground – it is simply a matter of life or death. The dependants on the dams and water pans are in trouble as those on wells. The lack of both will usurer in an unprecedented calamity. If we are to provide true help here we have to firmly address the provision of water.
Speaking to The Standard news paper, Hassan Farah the Lower North-Eastern Regional Commissioner said “urban streets are now flooded with ‘mad’ persons who lost their livestock to persistent drought.” Those fleeing the drought in the outlaying regions have established informal settlements in the urban centers ‘Hooyga Iskadeg’ (Somali words for -the homes of drought refugees).
As in the past, families sought pasture in the neighboring Eastern region, or further a field in south-eastern Ethiopia and Somalia itself. They were met with worse conditions forcing them back empty.
Dead goat near a dried up well a near Wajir town
“These people lost their entire animals which they took to those areas for pasture and water”, Mr Farah told The Standard in an Interview at his office in Garissa done in the last week of July.
“As we are talking now none of the 118 water pans in Garissa County are holding water, even the Hullugho dam [last dam holding water here] is drying this week. It is virtually not holding water, but wet soil which people and animals are scavenging for water”, said Mr. Farah.
Wajir town, with a population of nearly 50,000, is littered with wells, yet at the moment, only a few still reaching the water table. What used to be large watering wells for the camels with hundreds of camels have few today; around 50-60 come in the evening after looking for food the rest of the day.
In one area of the town, there was once a large thriving garden irrigated with a well through a windmill. Although the well is one of the deepest around and has water, the windmill isn’t working. For this reason several older women are drawing water by hand to irrigate their small garden. This is taking a toll on the women farmers whose hands are increasingly becoming as dry and withered as the land with deep cracks and calluses from pulling up bucket after bucket of water to pour into the parched soil. They have been most successful gardening under the last living tree on the plot that provides the seedlings some relief from the scorching heat. Unfortunately, a giraffe that was desperate for water came to eat the green leaves on the tree, walking on the plants the ladies are working so hard to maintain. This well and windmill are like a gold mine to this community and could sustain over 80 families if it was functioning properly.
Elgan, the village chief in Lafaley, located 20 Kms north of Wajir, showed a well that cannot be used for domestic purposes because animals have gotten sick and died after drinking water from it. This may be from contamination or because of an increased salt content as the amount of water decreases. We observed in a village a half kilometer away how the community wells are deepening. It was taking the young girls 30 minutes to get 20 liters water out of the well. This is three times as long as usual, because of how slowly the water trickles in. The water table is dropping below the depth of their well so this village is nearly out of water.
If adequate wells can be provided, then we shall have given hope and good news for people, livestock and farms in this drought. Water is hope. Many of the existing wells here will need to be deepened or rehabilitated and new ones will need to be sank and built right away to bring what people desperately need – water.
The Kenya Government has disbursed Sh1.5 million to each of the eleven districts in the region for water projects and will soon commission Sh100 million Modogashe borehole project and Sh4 million borehole projects in Lagdera and Dadaab districts respectively. This is not adequate due to the magnitude of the need. We must pitch in here to reach more who are in dire need but will not be covered in this attempt.
Already TSM plans on rehabilitating 5 and sinking 3 new boreholes in Wajir. This is informed by the success we had during the 2009 drought. Then we help sink a bore whole is Waberi area of Wajir and Mzee has used it to his benefit and has vegetables in the heat of this drought!
Plenty of vegetables can be found today in the Mzee A’s farm. The well here was provided by TSM in the 2009 drought.
Further north, Pastoralist Heritage Concerns, an NGO associated with Wajir North MP Hussein Gabbow, has teamed up with local and international donors to ship a rig that has the capacity to drill more than 400m and cut the cost of drilling boreholes by about 50 per cent. This will be the way to go since water tankers supplying water to communities here are by the day becoming ineffective.

Canon Francis Omondi

‘Rich’ pastoralists roam streets after death of animals



The death of his more than 800 cows valued at Sh20 million left Mr Hajji Ahmed Addullahi Guhad, 55 a devastated man.

At market value of Sh25,000 per cow Guhad could have been a rich man but he refused to sell his ‘wealth’ and invest the proceeds in business.

In just two months, his entire herd was swept by drought as he watched helplessly.

This reduced Guhad to an ordinary man and he lost self esteem and respect. And his names have since changed from Hajji Ahmed to Ahmed ‘Waal’ (Ahmed the mad one).

Ahmed ‘Waal’ is among hundreds of the growing list of former livestock owners now roaming streets of most urban centres in the drought prone North-Eastern region, after fleeing their villages due to biting drought.

Lower North-Eastern Regional Commissioner Hassan Farah said urban streets are now flooded with ‘mad’ persons who lost their livestock to persistent drought.

The pastoralists have established settlements in the urban centres dubbed as ‘Hooyga Iskadeg’ (Somali-the homes of drought IDPs).

“We have a big number of pastoralists families mainly from Mbalambala, Danyere, Banane, Modogashe, Dadadab and Sankuri who are returning only with their walking sticks from Eastern region of the country, part of war-tornSomaliaandEthiopia. These people lost their entire animals which they took to those areas for pasture and water”, Mr Farah told The Standard in an Interview at his office in Garissa.


The administrator said more than 600,000 people inGarissaCountyrequire urgent humanitarian assistance to cushion them from hunger.

“The drought is getting worse by the day and it is becoming a great concern for the Government. We are doing everything at our disposal and we urge the international community and well-wishers to step in and help starving families”, he added.

Farah said out of the 600,000 starving population at least 216,000 receive monthly relief hand outs from the Government. The Government has disbursed Sh1.5 million to each of the eleven districts in the region for water projects and will soon commission Sh100 million Modogashe borehole project and Sh4 million borehole projects in Lagdera and Dadaab districts respectively.

Farah said acute water problem has compounded the drought situation and the last dam holding water in Hullugho, Ijara District is expected to dry up this week.

“As we are talking now none of the 118 water pans in the county are holding water, even the Hullugho dam we are speaking of drying this week is virtually not holding water, but wet soil which people and animals are scavenging for water”, he said.

He said so far 30 per cent of the 600,000 cows inGarissaCountyhave been swept by drought and added that an equal percentage of goats and camels have also succumbed.

However, the administrator assured residents that the Government is enhancing relief food allocation during this holy month of Ramadhan to ensure their religious duty is not affected by hunger. Garissa County Kenya Red Cross Society relief co-coordinator Osman Adan said they are facing challenges due to surging numbers of food insecure individuals.

“We are currently targeting 116,850 persons against a starving population of more than 600,000. It is difficult to feed some while leaving out others after they all turned-up at the food distributions centres” he said.

He explained that the food allocation per person includes cereals of 6.9kg, yellow peas 1.2kg and oil 0.4kg which is 50 per cent relief assistance for the most vulnerable persons and families.

Mr Adan regretted that livestock crowd watering points and some that are too weak succumb after a long wait.

He said pastoralists tired of massive death of their animals leave carcasses at water points that are now a health hazard.

Pastoralists have resorted to killing new born calves to save their weak mothers from being sucked to death.

And in Khalalio Division inManderaCountya man who declined to be named for social reasons said he divorced his younger wife due to drought.

“I had to call off my marriage with my youngest wife with two children. My entire 62 goats were killed by drought and with no other source of income I should give her a break because what we receive as relief food ration is hardly enough to sustain my other family of twelve children” he said battling tears.

He adds: “I decided to separate with her because she comes from a stable and had only two sons to take care of compared to the other wife who has 12 children and hails from a very unstable family. If life changes “Inshallah” (God willing) we can re-unite”.


We are in the famine: a Christian community response

Eyewitness: Horn of Africa Drought

We are in the famine: a Christian community response

The Rev Francis, Anglican Canon and leader of an indigenous organisation called TSM, has worked for many years in the arid north east of Kenya, near the Somali border, about 400 kilometres from the capital Nairobi. They have been quietly but effectively working with people who are out of range of help from the government or many NGOs.

John Martin, a journalist from London, caught up with him on the evening of 2 August and asked about his day….

Francis. We’ve been meeting here with  our different teams that are distributing food. This week alone we distributed in  Garissa, Tana-river and Wajir counties, to 1,700 households [families]. Among them were 780 Christian families who are often missed in the regular  food distributions.  A week ago Pastors representing close to 1000 people were given 4, 90kg bags of maize to distribute to their members!

This evening I got a very sad note from a friend visiting one village in the North on the day government food aid arrived. For the 400 people there they got only 10 bags of maize and 5 bags of beans. You can guess there was a stampede to lay hold on something to take home!  It did confirm people’s complaint:  what the government and World Food Program has given won’t last them more than a couple of days.

The package we are giving is about 10 kilos of maize flour,4 kgs of beans and  3 ltrs oil per registered household. We are estimating this will last them about a month. We hope to do another round like this at the end of August.

We are beginning to work out how to feed malnourished children under five through establishing nutrition centres.

John Martin: So what’s the outlook?            

F. I’m afraid things are not going to get better. We have just got forecasts that there will not be rain for some time. A number of wells have dried up and water pans are history . We are evaluating a number of wells, and drilling out more. We hope to rehabilitate a number in Wajir, without this intervention the situation would be much worse.

J. What is the outlook for work with children?

F.  At the moment schools are closed till early September. Then we shall begin school feeding programmes. It will keep children in school and is a sure way to safeguard life and health.

J. How did distribution work?

F. We had a team of about 10. Some were in Nairobi doing the purchasing. We totally relied on pastors to identify the most needy in their congregations.  They also did the distribution of food to their church members. At the same time we also depended on  community leaders (elders) to do the same in their areas. Our task was to register them, purchase, package the food and bring it to them. It mostly went smoothly, but we had some challenges. In one place we registered 400 people and 800 turned up. We had to recalculate and ask people to share what they had received so none went away empty handed.

J. Are there problems obtaining food supplies and is the price rising because of scarcity?

F. Food prices are shooting up. Transport is getting scarce. If you could send me a truck it would make a huge difference. Even a used one. 90 percent of the funds we have has gone on food, we have not been geared to a disaster on this scale, so transport is a big issue. We are grappling with this and seeking help to take us through  the next few months.

J. How are relations with groups who want to help?

Many people are here for various reasons. We have just had a problem with one Christian NGO group today. Originally we had a partnership agreement hoping they would fund our efforts on relief. They instead wanted a presence here as well. With our goals not congruent we opted out not to jeopardize our  long past and future work in this region.

As in other crises, they have wanted to intervene, supervise and have us distribute… they  have never been here before. I doubt they understand all the layers. I said, “Since you can do it, why don’t you?That will free us for other work. “.  I have tried to be patient, I tried to educate, that as Christians we should not fall in the example of the worldly NGOs where the power of money rules. It is sad because most of the resources are apparently being spent away from the real need.

We could have done it quickly and with greater savings to avail for the needy,  which is why I give credit to groups like Barnabas Fund in UK  who have helped and understand what’s needed from outsiders.

J. What are recipients of help saying?

F. The majority of Christians told me they did not know what they have done without this help.

Many Christians here have felt a great sense of support from the community of faith outside. As a community under great pressure we have sensed an unusual unity. Christian people seem more bold in being identified with Christ even though the future promises to very difficult.

One fellow asked, “Where did this food come from?” and we said “Christians from across the world have given it and we are sharing it with you”. And he replied, “The Christians have helped us, where are our Muslim brothers?”

We are seeing this cementing our Christian witness.

J. Are there more refugees arriving?

F. There are still refugees arriving. About 1000 daily are streaming in exhausted and in great need, but the most recent development is the setting up of a refugee camp on the Somalia side of the border .  It means they can be helped from that end because north-east Kenya is already over saturated.  Moreover, once they are here, you cannot ask them to go back.

Some have huge problems.  Many have lost all their animals so their livelihood is gone.  I spoke to  one man who lost an entire herd of 400 cattle.  He was walking around like a ghost.

J. Are there positive developments?

There are other interesting developments.  There was a famine in 2009.  We helped sink some bore holes .  Now some are being used in farming and have produced a good harvest. Water is an urgent need if cattle are to survive.

That has led us to think that sinking more bore holes must be a priority in order to mitigate future droughts.  The prediction that there will be no rain for quite a while makes bore drilling urgent.

Garissa is 6 hours drive from Nairobi and Wajir is further north, in the dry north eastern part of Kenya


3 August 2011