Long and arduous wait for help as hunger pangs bite

Monday March 25 2019

drought, Turkana County

Asokon Lomulin, a resident of Kamekwi village in Turkana County, on March 17, 2019 battles hunger. Relief food is yet to reach most of the hunger-stricken villages of Turkana County. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

JEREMIAH KIPLANG'AT
By JEREMIAH KIPLANG'AT
More by this Author
 SAMMY LUTTA
By SAMMY LUTTA
More by this Author

Every morning, Ms Ocheli Lemuu wakes up and crawls towards the glow of light at the entrance of her hut, then waits for help in the form of food to arrive. It doesn’t, and so in the evening she crawls back to the dark destitution of her existence and waits for tomorrow.

A week after we first published the story of her painful want and desolation, Lemuu, like many others, has not found any help. On Sunday, we found her on the same spot we found her last week, deep inside the small, dusty village of Kamekui in Kang’irisae location, Turkana Central.

WILD FRUITS

She had the same clothes, her face still pale, eyes sunken. She said the only food she had eaten was the one the Nation team gave her last Sunday and was happy to receive what we had brought her.

“No one has come to our aid yet,” said her daughter-in-law Emily Erii. “We are still waiting.”

A kilometre away, Ms Naupe Akolom, whom we found under a shade besides the road last week after failing to get to the local centre to seek relief food, was this time outside her small hut in Nachoto village, visibly weaker and struggling to stand. “I have never been visited by any leader or any official from the county or national governments to check on me,” she said, through an interpreter. “I only need food as I am weak to get mine.”

Relief food is yet to reach most of the hunger-stricken villages of Turkana County, where local leaders have appealed for close to Sh2 billion to finance relief food services.

While many other regions of the country, including parts of the Kilifi, Tana River, Kwale, Kitui, Machakos, Mandera, Garissa and Wajir are also struggling with acute food shortages, Turkana County is the most affected, according to aid agencies.

At Lorukia village in Kalapata location of Turkana South, residents are now relying on the fruits of the wild doum palm tree, known here as mukoma, for survival. One of them is Mr Ereng Eyanae, who is too old and feeble to eat the hard fruit. The job of cracking the nut is left to his wife, whom we found crashing the fruits.

'DROUGHT TERRORISTS'

“I have nothing to be proud of as the head of the family. I cannot feed by children. I ask President Uhuru Kenyatta to bring us food before well all die,” Mr Eyanae said.

But Eyanae was not always this destitute. When rains failed, he relied on his goats for survival, but a severe drought last year killed most of his flock, and what remained was stolen by bandits.

Ms Arupe Amanyang, a village elder, said the county government distributed food here last week, “but it was too little to make any difference”. Turkana South MP James Lomenen pleaded for the county to work harder to ensure food reached the most affected villages. “Some people are debating whether people are dying or not. In my constituency we have received reports of deaths. With these kind of conditions, you would expect deaths. The focus should be on how to reach the most desperate," said Mr Lomenen.

He dismissed people he termed “drought terrorists” for taking advantage of the hunger to fleece generous Kenyans in the name of buying food for the affected locals.

Last week, Deputy President William Ruto and Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said there were no deaths directly linked to hunger despite residents in various villages in Turkana and Baringo saying the opposite.

GETTING DROUGHTS

The residents showed the Nation graves of those they said had died of hunger in the two counties. Bereaved family members also said their kin had died after going for days without food.

At the weekend, Turkana County Commissioner Wambua Muthama said the government was yet to link any of the deaths to hunger.

He, however, confirmed that the situation was getting serious, and that he had received 6,000 bags of maize and 4,100 bags of beans.

Mr Muthama said Turkana West Sub-County, which neighbours Uganda and South Sudan, was the hardest hit. Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok said they are working round the clock to distribute food.

A Turkana County Steering Group comprising a number of county ministers met on Friday in Lodwar and came up with a Sh1.9 billion budget for relief efforts, saying they would raise Sh546 million from the county coffers and seek the rest outside.

County Secretary Peter Eripete said the county is concluding the first phase of relief food distribution programme that targets 805,000 residents.