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Hunger deaths stalk more Kenyans amid government denial

Saturday March 23 2019

HUNGER

A starving Steller Jeptoo struggles to walk, at her home in Loruk, Baringo County, on March 21, 2019. She has not received food aid. PHOTO | CHEBOITE KIGEN | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

FLORAH KOECH
By FLORAH KOECH
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Three fresh graves of people who have died in the ongoing drought in Baringo County contradict the government’s insistence that there is no food crisis in the country.

A spot check by Saturday Nation on a tour of the hunger-ravaged villages in the region in the past two days found the graves in Tiaty constituency alone, with more residents showing signs of starvation.

Frail faces of children, the elderly and expectant mothers — the worst hit after men went further afield in search of pasture and water for their livestock — are a picture of a humanitarian crisis.

At Cherelyo village in Loyamorok ward a fresh grave of 58-year-old Joseph Kiptoo, whose family says he succumbed to a hunger-related illness on Sunday, stared at us, a mound of stones and dry shrubs some 50 metres from the compound.

His home, a dilapidated structure, whose rafters were almost falling, revealed the levels of poverty in the area.

POVERTY

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Some family members — not all of them will fit in the structure — often spend their nights under a lone tree in the compound, braving snake bites, another hazard in the desolate region.

Cattle rustling, a regular menace, comes into the mix to push residents into a situation of hopelessness.

“Our father depended on charcoal burning to eke out a living after all our livestock was wiped out by armed criminals two years ago. We were reduced to paupers after all our houses were razed down. His health deteriorated and could not manage to go for charcoal burning,” Mr Kipkoech Kiptoo, a son of the deceased, said.

He said a doctor at Marigat Sub-County Hospital told them their father was not sick and only needed enough food.

“We relied on menial jobs to get food for our ailing father but he died on Sunday after starving for three days,” he added.

Also facing starvation is a 90-year-old grandmother who was staying with the deceased man.

AID APPEAL

During our visit she was shivering and was too weak to hold a half-litre packet of milk we gave her.

“Why is the government disputing that people starved to death yet my father died of the same circumstances?” Mr Kiptoo wondered, adding that they informed the local chief who assisted them bury him.

“Some of us have gone without food for several days; and we fear that we will also follow suit if no urgent intervention is made. We are even yet to get the food aid.”

Locals at Chepilat area, 25 kilometres from Nginyang’, where the government officials were distributing food, were yet to get any.

DEATH

It is here, three kilometers from the trading centre, that we found another fresh grave of Ms Cheparenger Lochokee, whose relatives say died of hunger three weeks ago.

Her widower and six children were sitting under a tree in the scorching afternoon sun.

Though they were supposed to be taking the afternoon meal, the children had dried lips, an indication that they had not taken anything.

Mr Solomon Lochokee said his wife died after going without food for two days.

“I have no livestock after they were all driven away by armed criminals two years ago. I usually depend on selling charcoal to fend for my family, but there was a time I did not manage to sell for two weeks. We had to sleep on empty stomachs for two days and my wife could not manage to walk. She died three weeks later,” he recounted.

NUTRITION

He said they informed the area chief of the circumstances surrounding her death.

“We are wondering why the government is disputing that people succumbed to hunger, yet the administrators are aware of the situation on the ground. As we speak, more people may die because they are in dire need of food aid,” he added.

Five hundred metres from the homestead, we saw the grave of Paul Kiplal, 65, another victim of hunger, who died early in the month after “starving for several days”.

The Saturday Nation team came face to face with young children in the homestead who were malnourished.

A year-old girl was too frail to even stretch her hand or cry; her thin legs could neither allow her to stand nor crawl.

HERDER

Her lactating mother, Ms Chepochesir Lokoteba, had no milk after going without food for three days.

“Children here survive on one meal a day if they will be lucky. I no longer breastfeed my baby because I go without food for days, so I give him porridge and my other children may go for two days without a single meal,” Ms Lokoteba said.

The locals noted the relief food promised by the national government to feed the population in the county was yet to reach the area.

Ms Cheponot Akoree told Saturday Nation that her husband had gone to herd livestock in Silale plains, more than 50kms away, only to come back home to die of hunger.

“We had no food and our efforts to borrow from the neighbourhood yielded no fruits. He died while sleeping under a tree in our compound,” the emaciated woman, who was too weak to stand while being interviewed, said.

WILD FRUIT

The widow wore on her wrist a rope made of hide skin, called tirim among the Pokot community. A woman wears it for three months after her husband dies.

The locals have now resorted to a wild fruit known as ‘Sorich’ that is boiled for many hours to remove the poisonous substance.

In all, local leaders say more than 17 people have reportedly died of hunger-related illnesses in Tiaty and Baringo North sub-counties.

National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairman William Cheptumo urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to declare drought a National disaster.

“When you see the number of Kenyans dying, we really need to secure our people,” the Baringo North MP said.