Starving nation: Horrifying face of misery as hunger and drought wreak havoc

Residents at Chesakam village in Tiaty,Baringo county eating wild fruits. (Photo: Kipsang Joseph/Standard)

The sun dances dizzily in the open skies as one heads to Chesakam in Tiaty, Baringo County.

It is only 9am, but the vastness of the area dotted by dry acacia trees paints a picture of lifelessness.

As one crosses bridges under which lie dry riverbeds, the only reminder of life here are the hundreds of dry trees and a few camels. All else indicates the extent of drought and hunger in the area.

Besides the carcasses of animals, the sun appears to have completely sucked up moisture from the earth, leaving the land in a dire situation.

The area has been hit hard by water shortage, prompting residents to resort to traditional killer wells where residents, mostly women and young men, risk their lives to fetch water.

Each well has a depth of between five and ten metres. When women want to fetch water for domestic use or when herders want to fetch water for livestock, at least four people are forced to line up from the bottom of the well to the top so that they can pass water containers from one person to another.

But in some instances they fail to deliver water to the top as the wells collapse and bury them alive.

Taun Lokwee perished in October after the walls of a well he was in collapsed. Survivors buried him along the banks of River Nginyang.

In Pokot community, women carry the obligation of fetching water, which exposes them to the dangers of killer wells. Kakoru Lokolkoru, Chesitet villager elder, reveals that most victims of collapsed wells are women.

According to the elder, Lochilet Lokongo and Loparatum Aitodung are among the latest victims.

“The wells are dug along the rivers which have loose sandy soil and in most cases they collapse and kill a number of people inside. The Pokot culture dictates that such victims are buried instantly and next to the scene,” he explains.

Chesitet Dam, the only source of water in the entire region, dried up in October, forcing some residents to seek the precious commodity in River Kapedo, more than 20km away.

Interestingly, two years ago, the county announced the sinking of more than 100 boreholes, with more than 30 to be in Tiaty. But residents described the project as a white elephant, saying most of the boreholes were only drilled and never equipped.

At Chesakam village, 70-year-old Lolima Chepotopole whose right hand was dislocated while lifting a 20-litre water Jerican from a well, is too frail to even raise her head, which seems heavier than her emaciated self. Given the long distance to  healthcare facilities from her village, and poor infrastructure, the elderly woman was never treated.

When The Standard toured the affected areas, residents were working collectively to fetch water for domestic use and for their livestock. Households do not have enough people to fetch water, transforming the task from a household activity to a communal responsibility.

Locals urged the county government, through the Water, Agriculture and Irrigation docket to equip drilled boreholes. They also want water to be supplied to residents using water bowsers.

More than 100,000 people living in Ribko and Silale villages are facing starvation. The last time it rained in the expansive sub-county, according to residents, was eight months ago.

Wild fruits

To avoid early deaths, women have started boiling wild fruits, which are also hard to get. Children and the elderly are the most affected by the drought. Most residents across the many villages have abandoned their homes and lined up along the banks of dry seasonal rivers, their feet buried in the sand to try to cool their feet in the river sand.

At Cheptuimet village near Kapedo, Cheptakar Komolngoria has not seen relief food since February last year. She is among many elderly people surviving on milk and meat alone. Good Samaritans sometimes boil her sorich, a poisonous wild fruit.

On Friday, desperate women, men and their children assemble along the banks of River Nginyang, from sunrise, to prepare the green fruit which is boiled the whole day. To avoid consuming the poison, the boiled soup is continuously discarded.

“This can be your last meal unless those responsible follow the required procedures. From 7am-5pm, the cooks must take utmost care because this remains the only option for villagers to stay alive,” said Cheptuyo Lokutom.

Consequently, villagers are forced to walk long distances in search of the life-saving, poisonous fruit. When they get the fruit, women take between three to four hours removing the outer shell. The seeds are then placed in a pot and boiled in a lot of water until cracks show on their surface. Women and girls walk long distances to fetch water either in few remaining dams or drying riverbeds.

Apart from Sorich, residents also feed their children on Adome, an orange-coloured traditional fruit. Residents and provincial administrators called on the Government to increase food rations. Chiefs in the drought-stricken district said only 10 per cent of affected residents are getting relief food.

Tiaty Deputy County Commissioner Daniel Kurui said several people are facing starvation but described the situation as manageable.

“We have recommended that the food be increased as the current portion falls way below the number of needy people,” he said.

At Naudo, residents travel for more than 100km to Lake Baringo in search of food and pasture for their animals. Fears abound that the current drought could renew conflicts among pastoralist communities in parts of the county.