World Bulletin / News Desk
“That will feed me for a month,” said Bilan, her skeleton-like body hidden behind a colorful scarf and shawl.
Bilan, one of 3 million Kenyans facing starvation, is among hundreds of residents of North Horr town in Marsabit County who have gathered to receive relief food.
But since the Marsabit people are pastoralists who have lost hundreds of thousands of animals to the drought that has stricken Kenya and other parts of East Africa, Nairobi has rolled out a program of purchasing their livestock and supplying the meat to the starving local population.
By the end of the day, Bilan -- who sold a goat to the government -- will return home with a slaughtered goat, which she described as a win-win situation -- while worrying about where her family’s next meal will come from once they have consumed the goat.
“Before the starvation caused by the drought, life used to be quite challenging, but now I would give anything to go back to those days,” she said.
“I had to abandon over 10 goats which died due to starvation. There is no pasture, you also can’t milk them because water is hard to find,” she added.
“Sleeping without food for two days is now common. If you are lucky, you might get a meal after the two days.”
Stretching out an emaciated hand and using the other’s index finger to point out wrinkles across her skin, she asked, “I look very old right?”
Bilan described having learned to ignore “the painful hunger pangs”.
“Only when I feel like collapsing do I realize that my body needs food, because the rumbles have also gone silent. I think the body is used to being without food.”
She praised government initiatives to combat scarcity related to the drought, which has hit 23 counties out of 47 counties -- with Marsabit the worst affected.
“What the government is doing will really help us,” she said, referring to government efforts to provide relief food in rations and 2,700 Kenyan Shillings (roughly $27) for food purchases.
“Now they are also helping us by buying our dying animals. If this continues then many lives will be saved until the drought passes,” Bilan added.
In Marsabit, mothers can be seen carrying malnourished children, all queuing to receive meat to feed their families who are suffering from various drought-related deficiencies.
According to the government, malnutrition levels in the county stand at 30 percent and those in the sub-county of North Horr at 34 percent.
Speaking while launching the exercise of purchasing the drought affected animals to be used to feed the community, Kenyan First lady Margaret Kenyatta emphasized that animal destocking residents affected by drought is among the measures Kenya has put in place to alleviate the effects of the drought in most affected areas.
On Wednesday, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta attended the launch of the program of purchasing drought-affected livestock in Marsabit town where she emphasized that destocking is among the measures aimed at alleviating the effects of drought.
“Today it is difficult, seeing just how far the current drought has spread and seeing the hardships of the families it has hit. It cannot be compared to the suffering faced by millions of this country, mothers and children being the most affected,” Kenyatta said.
“I, for one, assure everyone here who has been affected by the drought, that the government will continue to support relief efforts and that you will remain in our hearts and our minds”
The Kenya Red Cross Society’s secretary general told attendees that innovative and realistic interventions, such as the Cash Transfer Programs, compared positively to the earlier method of food hand-outs, asserting that the buying off of threatened livestock was the best way to tackle the drought.
“Since the failure of the long and short rains last year, millions of Kenyans have been affected by the drought and are in dire need of assistance,” Abbas Gullet said.
“Previously we used to do food distributions, but we have said in this current situation we are embracing an exercise where people are given cash as opposed to giving them what we want to give them to eat.”
He warned that the distribution of tons of food was susceptible to mismanagement and corruption, referring to a government statement last year noting that some officials were illegally selling relief food to starving locals.
Halima Osman, one of the beneficiaries of the initiative, said the money would help her purchase food cheaply brought into Marsabit by vendors from agricultural towns.
Dr. Mbara Chege, a veterinary officer from North Horr, told Anadolu Agency that the destocking of livestock would not only save hundreds of thousands of lives, but also protect poor families from unnecessary losses.
“Animals have been dying because of lack of pasture. Instead of them dying, we are going to use slaughter destocking where we select animals from vulnerable families and recruit them as beneficiaries.”
Kenya's First Lady also flagged off three lorry-loads carrying an assortment of relief food destined to various parts of the county.
According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, more than 11 million people across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are facing severe hunger due to prolonged and worsening drought conditions.