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September 27 2011 | KENYA

Emergency in the Horn of Africa: Reportage on the Community of Sant'Egidio aid in northern Kenya

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The drought in northern Kenya continues to affect severely especially rural populations. Thanks to the collection organized by the Community of Sant'Egidio has been possible to send new loads of food, whose distribution is still ongoing.  

It consists in many tons of corn, rice and sugar. The mission covers an area inhabited by about 50,000 people, in the villages of Baragoi and South Horr, Samburu District 700 km north of Nairobi, and Loiyangalani, on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana, 800 km from the capital. The distribution was made in collaboration with the local missions of the Consolata Fathers who have taken charge of continuing to transfer the aid in all the villages of the districts.

The first two places are located in a typical arid African savanna, characterized by the almost total absence of water sources. The people mainly live in small villages without any service; for supplies of food and water they are daily forced, especially women, to a several kilometers walk; even the schools, especially missionary ones, are far from residential areas. This is why the illiteracy rate is still above 80%. The drought has undermined the main economic activity, a poor farming of goats, camels and donkeys.

Upon the arrival of the mission, the first request rising from the children, was water. The area, moreover, is affected by an ethnic confrontation that sees the Samburu and Turkana tribes clash for tribal reasons, but also for the possession of the few local resources. For this reason, the mission had to be careful to distribute aid in equal amounts between the different settlements to avoid further hostilities because of their coming. In every village where we arrived we were asked if the same aid have been given also to the <<enemies>>.

Women and children, dressed decently with their traditional clothes that barely conceal the thinness determined by the famine, invited us to visit their poor huts as a sign of welcome. The arrival of the food was a moment of celebration. Especially for pure water. The few sources, in fact, are natural pools created by the rare rains that must be shared with the animals. The majority of people suffer from diseases caused by the lack of drinking water. The remoteness from major population centers also means the total absence of health services. The sick, when successful, must walk dozens if not hundreds of miles to be visited by a doctor. And many of them don’t succeed.

Going north along even less traveled roads, we arrive at Lake Turkana. The atmosphere quickly turns into a desert of black stones with few trees and a heat that, at certain times of the year, becomes unbearable. Over the past four years it has rained, for short periods, only twice. The village of Loiyangalani is a small group of huts where you can find some of the great evils that afflict the whole of Africa. In addition to drought and famine, in fact, the country is the crossroads of intensive smuggling of weapons coming from neighboring Sudan and Ethiopia.

The poverty of the place contrasts with the presence of some European companies that are conducting oil exploration. The approximately 8000 residents live in small semi-nomadic settlements continously moving because of little water availability. When they don’t find it you are forced to drink lake water, that is salty and chalky. The primitive huts denote a very hard living condition. The main activity, beyond the herd, until a few years ago, has been fishing. For some time, however, this has ceased to be a resource because of the change in the ecological balance of the lake water. The reduction of the basin, caused by the scarcity of rain, the inclusion of some fish species from the Nile, which destroyed the native species, have made the fishing scarcely profitable.

The populations depend completely on foreign aid. There isn’t any kind of service. Very few people have been visited by a doctor, but after a perilous journey towards the hospital of Mararal, which is over two hundred kilometers far. The only form of assistance is provided by a dispensary run by nuns.

Nonostante la presenza di alcune scuole rurali, a causa della distanza, i bambini  faticano a frequentare i corsi. Per questo l’incidenza dell’analfabetismo, soprattutto tra gli adulti, è oltre il 90%. Sono in pochi a parlare l’inglese o il Kiswaili e quasi tutti sanno soltanto usare i poco conosciuti dialetti locali.

Despite the presence of some rural schools, because of the distance, the children find it difficult to attend courses. For this reason the incidence of illiteracy, especially among adults, is more than 90%. Few people speak English or Kiswaili and almost everyone knows only little-known local dialects.

Also here there is an ongoing ethnic conflict fueled by the scarcity of resources. At the expense especially of El Molo, a peaceful tribe - the smallest ethnic groups in Kenya - completely converted to Christianity, whose songs betray its ancient Ethiopian origin. In all the settlements the aid have brought a great relief to the difficult conditions and, above all, have broken insulation that at times seems to be the heaviest suffering.

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