Hundreds too weak as famine ravages region

These Dasanatch boy and girl from El-Maasich village in Illeret, North Horr, Marsabit County are among hundreds of starving Keyans in the border centre. Desperate parents have resorted to give their starving children a local brew in order to send them into sleep. The trading centre that is home to minority and marginalized Dasanatch community neighbours Ethiopia and rely on the foreigners for relief food. Photos By ALI ABDI/ STANDARD.

Yier Bokoch, 28, crawls out of his tiny hut in Nan'golei village in the border trading centre of Illeret but he is too weak to stand up.

His young wife Krowl and neighbours try to lift him up but he only takes three steps before he collapses on the ground after taking a feeble breath.

Bokoch is among hundreds of villagers at Illeret, that is home to minority and marginalised Dasanatch community, who are staring at imminent death due to starvation that has hit hard Marsabit County.

The village is located about 460km from Marsabit town and about 12km from Omorate in Ethiopia.

During our visit, The Standard witnessed disturbing scenes with both young and elderly too weak due to hunger and malnutrition.

"My husband has no health-related problems. He is this way because he has not had any meal for days as we lack food in the house," said Krowl.

Other nearby villages facing famine include Nan'golei, Telesgaye, Ilolo, El-Bokoch and El-Maasich.

Scenes of children, women and the elderly lying on the bare ground under the scorching sun, too weak to stand up or speak, are common.

''There is massive starvation in Illeret and children are severely malnourished. The malnutrition is evidenced by protruding bellies, dry lips, pale faces and weak legs," said Wario Guyo, the director of Pastoralist Community Initiative and Development Assistance (Pacida).

Desperate parents out to calm their children crying for food have resorted to giving them a local brew with aim of making them to sleep.

"When children cry for food, we sedate them using local brew to force them to sleep," said an elder who identified himself only as Sokotey.

Ethiopia, which is also hard hit by drought, regularly supplies its citizens with relief food, and those from Illeret sneak in to beg for rations.

"We rush to Ethiopia seeking for assistance whenever food aid is provided there. The Ethiopia government has been very responsive, supporting its citizens in time of need but our county and national governments have forgotten about us," said Sokotey.

Some locals scavenge for coffee husks from Ethiopia to make a drink.

"Shallow wells that form the main source of domestic water have all dried up and the villagers now rely on Lake Turkana for their survival,'' said Mr Guyo.

Lake Turkana water levels has significantly receded due to the construction of the Gibbe dam by the Ethiopia government along Omo river that feeds into the lake.

Fishing, the main activity in Illeret village, has been hit hard and the situation has aggravated food insecurity and business in the area.

Thousands of livestock that support the pastoralists have perished and the remaining ones are too weak to survive in coming weeks.

The Dasanatch community, with a population of about 20,000 people, is marginalised within North Horr in Marsabit and is yet to received relief food.

"We are looking towards east (North Horr) to see if a lorry will arrive with help," said the village elder.

The NGO official, whose organisation distributes relief food, has called on both county and national governments and other agencies to sent urgent food to the Dasanatch people to save them from starvation.