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



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