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West Pokot: Families in camps grapple with little to eat and crowding

Saturday January 4 2020

West Pokot

Women prepare meals outside their tents at Paro Primary School in Sigor, West Pokot County, where a camp was set up by the Kenya Red Cross Society on November 28, 2019, after floods and mudslides displaced residents. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

As schools reopen next week, the displaced residents will require alternative places for shelter

As you enter West Pokot County, all seems normal as you are greeted by some of the most spectacular geographical features in the country.

From long steep slopes to mountain ranges and deep valleys, one would think of County 024 as heaven on earth. But beneath this paradise lies an uninviting reality brought about by floods and mudslides that wreaked havoc on November 23 last year.

The reality of this disaster, which left tens dead and others missing, starts sinking as you reach Sebit along the Kapenguria–Lodwar Highway, where part of the road was washed away by mudslides.

But this is just but the tip of the iceberg, as the true picture of the situation dawns as you journey on deeper into the villages. There are areas whose accessibility is next to impossible, with women and children bearing the biggest brunt of the disaster.

My journey takes me to RCEA Paroo Primary School, one of the camps in the county, some 80km from the headquarters, Kapenguria.

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The camp is now home to more than 1,800 people; all crammed in 64 tents and 33 classes.

It is here that we meet Josephine Kapel, a 35-year-old woman who lost seven of her eight children in the floods. It is incomprehensible that despite this grief, she can afford a brief smile as she narrates events prior to the tragedy that almost left her childless.

“My husband and I had gone to visit a neighbour who had a fundraiser. At around 9pm it started pouring: the rains went on past midnight. When we returned at 1am, we almost thought that we were lost as nothing was there. Our children were gone. Our two-room semi-permanent house that was on our seven-acre piece of land was nowhere to be seen,” Kapel narrates, still in disbelief.

That’s not just it, only three bodies of her seven missing children were found and later buried at her brother-in-law’s farm.

Apart from that, Kapel, who together with her husband ran a maize business, were left with nothing as their stock, as well as Sh200,000 they had in their house, was washed away. But she says she has a lot more to be worried about, like sleeping in a cold tent, as well taking care of her remaining son and herself, considering that she is pregnant.

A few metres from Kapel’s tent, I meet Rose Chepkorwa, 31, a widow from Kortum village, a couple of kilometres away from the camp. She sits on a bench under a tree on a windy but sunny afternoon. On her hands she is holding her newborn baby, barely a month old.

Despite the winds, the infant is wearing nothing but a light cloth as she peacefully sleeps coiled in a light leso dampened by her urine; unaware of the plight that befalls her.

Chepkorwa says even before she had enough time to mourn her husband, who was killed in July, disaster struck and now she has been left to fend for her five children alone.

Anne Chebgatich, a 26-year-old mother of three from Ngotor village, left with nothing, their house and a two acre farm having been swept away by the floods.

Despite getting relief food and a place to sleep thanks to Red Cross, that still isn’t enough and her family doesn’t have enough to eat, and it gets worse for her considering she is lactating. However, Chebgatich says she is lucky that all of her children and her husband survived the disaster.

The three women are among those who were fortunate enough to get tents, and though the canvas doesn’t equal the comfort of their homes, it is way better than sharing a classroom with dozens of people.

Monica Cheptulla, 36, looks undernourished as her 14-month-old baby sucks her milk-less breast. The mother of seven from Telum village, was forced into the camp after everything they owned was swept away. Her home, as well as an onion farm and a tree nursery, were all gone.

“I’m here together with my husband and three of my children, while the other four are with their grandparents,” she says.

Cheptulla and her three children, like many others seeking shelter in the evacuation centre, have been forced to sleep on the floor, surviving on mostly one meal a day.

It is a situation that seems to have outraged Health and Sanitation executive Geoffrey Lipale, who says though they have tried as a county government, still they do not have the capability to handle the situation.

He puts the number of the dead as a result of the floods at 58 and reckons that a lasting solution would be for the government to fund alternative places, buy land for the affected families and pay them off so they can move to safer grounds.

But West Pokot is not the only county that continues to suffer the aftermath of the recent downpour, Baringo County is facing a similar tale as misery and hopelessness reign there.

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