Famine drives woman and her children to feed on dogs

Akai Ekomua with her two children in Turkana County.[PHOTO: PETER OCHIENG/STANDARD]
By SILAH KOSKEI

TURKANA, KENYA: She killed and slaughtered two dogs which she fed her family in order to survive the pricking effects of hunger in Turkana County.

Police arrested the woman and her accomplice but released them on humanitarian grounds before mobilising funds to buy them food.

Akai Ekomua revealed that her reason for slaughtering the dogs, whose meat she also shared with her starving neighbours, was to contain hunger and avoid breaking the law by stealing a goat from her neighbour. She has already lost three children to the famine.

SEE ALSO :State to hire legal adviser on Tullow’s Turkana oil find

She left her home in Kibish, Turkana North to camp at an internally displaced persons camp located near the Kakuma refugee camp due to hunger.

But she says consuming the dogs did little to lessen the hunger pangs. When The Standard visited the area, we met the elderly Ekomua with her two kids at the Kakuma refugee camp begging for food.

MALNOURISHED CHILDREN

Seated under a thorn tree next to a food distribution point in Kakuma, she glances at any passerby. Her thin body tells it all as she begs for food and water.

According to residents at the camp, Ekomua has been making visits to the camp since Sunday hoping to access food and water for her two malnourished children. “Many people in the region are hungry and do not have the strength to walk from their houses to search for food,” she says in a low tone.

SEE ALSO :Accidents: The week Kenyans would love to forget

She fears her remaining two children will die.

“I did not want to steal from others and the only solution was to roast the two dogs. After all, they belonged to me,” she says in her mother tongue as explained to us by an interpreter.

Desperate times indeed as she says eating unusual food has now become the norm in Turkana in order to save lives. “People like us are the most affected since I’m a widow with nobody to rely on,” Ekomua says.

Her husband was shot dead by armed raiders and since then, she says, life has become unbearable forcing her to use any means available to provide for her children.

“Food became scarce and I even fell sick making it hard to look after the children,” she notes.

SEE ALSO :Turkana to get lion’s share of Sh5.7b kitty for poor counties

The elderly woman hopes that Kakuma camp, exclusively for refugees, will open its doors to people like herself before the famine claims her two children.

Her young daughter cries uncontrollably because her mother does not have the capacity to breastfeed her because she is weak and the only option is to give her water all day.

Peter Aule, a firewood supplier at Kakuma camp, says it is disheartening for Turkana residents to continue suffering while the Government is reluctant to assist.

He says a section of the host community and refugees have been giving Ekomua food and water but he blames the Government for failure to provide assistance to its impoverished citizens in Turkana.

“Each year we cry for help due to hunger but the Government acts when the situation has worsened. For how long shall we be enslaved with these chains of famine?” he poses.

SEE ALSO :The green side of Turkana that defies simmering heat and war

He says such cases as dog consumption should send a vivid message to the Government to institute lasting mechanisms that will help contain the ongoing famine.

MOVED HERDS

“Why is the President quiet yet his campaign message when he came here was that his government would prioritise food security for residents?” he wonders.

Aule also blames the county government for failure to provide pre-emptive solutions to the prevailing drought. He asks area leaders to act saying they should shun divisive politics and help residents.

Turkana West OCPD Jonathan Ngala tells The Standard that police officers caught Ekomua and another woman while they were eating the dogs. “Hunger caused them to feast on the dog but the act is prohibited by law. The women made a mistake despite being hungry,” he says. “The women confessed that they ate the two dogs with their families and had lined up two others for slaughter to keep them going,” says Ngala.

The OCPD says following the incident, security officials from the region contributed funds to buy food for those at the camp in order to prevent such incidents.

He also says if the drilling of water and oil in the area is expedited, it would help transform lives of many residents whose livelihood is pegged on being pastoralists.

Turkana West Deputy County Commissioner Mohammed Dara says the food situation is alarming and action needs to be taken.

He reveals that over 10,000 people from Turkana West are currently facing hunger while thousands have moved with their herds to Uganda in search of pasture. “As security officials, we recently met and assessed the ongoing famine and forwarded the report to the county steering committee and are optimistic that action will be taken promptly,” he says.

He adds that the crucial solution is to provide food and strategize on long term plans such as irrigation farming in order to ensure the region is food secure.

“There is also need to educate the community on the importance of selling some of their stock and using the money to buy food for their families,” he said.

Turkana County Mohammed Dara Jonathan Ngala