UNICEF provides life-saving emergency nutrition intervention to drought-affected communities in Kenya. At the paediatric ward in Lodwar District Hospital, the persistent rasping sound of babies coughing slashes through the stillness in the room. Admitted with a variety of different ailments, the toddlers and infants occupying beds at this unit in the northwest of Kenya all have one thing in common – malnourishment caused by the drought. Report by Rob McBride TURKANA DISTRICT, Kenya, 15 August 2011
VIDEO: 14 August 2011 -UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on the alarming rate of malnutrition in Kenya’s Turkana district.
Making children more susceptible to childhood illnesses, this hospital has seen a big increase in cases admitted.
“If I compare the situation right now with 2010, we are looking at more than hundred percent increase in the admission rate” said Marjorie Volege, UNICEF Nutrition Officer.”
Occupying a bed at the end of the ward, Elizabeth Atiya gently cradles her five-month-old daughter Gladys. Suffering from pneumonia, the baby’s eyelids were heavy and her breathing rapid and shallow.
Elizabeth, along with her husband and five children, lives on the edge of town in a collection of three simple huts made from twigs and straw. At present all they’ve got to eat is maize and a few beans. The family’s problems began a year earlier, when the small herd of goats that sustained them, perished in the worsening drought.
“Since the livestock died, we have only been making brooms to sell at market,” said Elizabeth. “And whatever money we get, we buy flour for porridge.”
For communities who have traditionally been pastoralist, living off herds that graze the land, the drought has been disastrous. Making simple brooms from dry leaves to sell to local towns, or moving from the countryside to towns themselves in search of food, is the fate for many. For the children, the dislocation brings extra problems.
“When the livestock is gone due to drought, some of them opt to go to towns,” explained Nicholas Kirimi, UNICEF Nutrition Support Officer. “Others move near the refugee camp. And then you have issues of children not going to school.”
Not surprisingly, this crisis has quickly gained a reputation as being a ‘children’s famine.’
Compared to the quiet of the children’s ward, the outpatient department was crowded and hectic. Mothers from the surrounding area packed into the cramped space in order to get their children screened for malnutrition, while those families who qualified for food aid lined up for the handouts of therapeutic food that are keeping so many families alive.
Scaling up assistance
A recent survey cited wasting rates among children under five years as high as 37.4 per cent in parts of Turkana. Furthermore, UNICEF estimates a full 30 per cent of all households in the district are now relying on food aid, while around one half of all families are surviving on one meal a day.
In response, UNICEF, with its local NGO and Government Partners, helped by funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO), has been substantially scaling up feeding programmes since the start of the year. This increased support means more of the most vulnerable children are being reached with lifesaving emergency nutrition intervention.