The last time people experienced seasonal rainfall in Ileret, North Horr Sub County in Northern Kenya was three years ago.
The situation has generated into severe drought, famine, death of livestock and with it, hunger and malnutrition.
To make matters worse, water of the nearby Lake Turkana is too salty, not fit for human consumption, but residents drink it anyway. The Daasanach speaking community in this area are 450km from Marsabit town. They have no access to health care facilities. There is only one school.
One manyatta has about eight children who spend the whole day eating nothing, drinking nothing. Ironically, Ileret is 16km from Ethiopia where agriculture and other farming activities are thriving. Health facilities are also in Ethiopia.
Most homesteads in North Horr have lost their livestock due to persistent drought. They have no access to milk and meat. With the current climate changes, North Horr is not expecting rains anytime soon. January to March is always a dry season. Residents hope it will rain around September even though they waited in vain last September.
A report by Oxfam International pegs the number of people affected by drought in Kenya as high as 3.1m with 23 counties facing starvation: Baringo, Isiolo, Mandera, Marsabit, Samburu, Turkana, Wajir, Kilifi, Lamu, West Pokot, Laikipia, and Garissa are in alarming drought stages. Hascar*, a mother of eight children had exhausted borrowing food from her neighbours. She brews alcohol made from yeast, sugar, and water. It is her main source of income. But with the tough economic times, customers are hard to come by.
With no money, no food, and hungry children but alcohol at her disposal, Hascar made the tough decision: She gives her children alcohol instead of seeing them sleep on empty stomachs.
“This alcohol (Kada) is the backbone of our economy here,” explains Hascar. “If we sell it we get food, if we don’t then that’s what we have. Then we wait for the next day hoping that things will get better.”
Hascar says Kada, served in cooking oil tins, helps her children sleep at night. So do the children of her neighbours. The younger ones are below two years. One is nine months old, but the brew is all there is. Though bitter, you will think even the youngest ones are drinking water or some soft drink. They hardly cringe.
“I know the alcohol will make them drunk and when drunk they can sleep or else they will cry of hunger the whole night,” says Hascar adding that she knows it’s dangerous to give children alcohol, “but what else do I have to give them, I have nothing?”