A picture of strength and perspective amidst drought


Daniel Seller, Program Quality and Accountability Advisor

August 12, 2011

I have just visited Balich Village in Garissa district, North Eastern Province of Kenya. Inhabitants of Balich belong to the Somali-Bantu community, an ethnic minority which is highly marginalized. The region is experiencing a severe drought, as many other areas in the Horn of Africa currently. According to some estimates, 2.4 million people are affected in the North Eastern Province, where Garissa district is located – this is more than 50 percent of the province”s population. But amidst the drought, there is a glimmer of hope, because in Balich villagers were prepared for the drought. They are able to plant and harvest food and animal feed as they have a functioning irrigation system. But let”s start from the beginning:

Some areas of the North East Province are difficult to reach because very bad roads and long distances of up to 1,000 kilometres, and in those far away places, children, pregnant women and lactating mothers and elderly people are mostly affected. I heard of some men who had to migrate in search of pasture for their livestock or for work in the towns. Women and children staying behind depend on assistance from relatives, the Kenyan government and humanitarian organizations.

As the drought goes on water pumps cannot keep up with the demand. People use it during the day, animals at night. People rely on mechanised pumped water more than ever, and because of the over-usage the pumps often break down. Ground water levels are dropping, and some areas that were once sustained by pumped water now have to be served by expensive water trucking, which can only be a short-term solution. In some villages, pastoralists had to wait for three days to get water for their animals. Some had to walk for 30-40 kilometres to reach water points. Many of their livestock died while looking for water – and that means their source of income has perished. Garissa is mostly a pastoralist area; animals mean everything. One colleague said to me: "Animals are meat, milk, and cash. If they are gone, everything is gone’. Prices of livestock have decreased and often pastoralists have to sell their animals for very unfavourable prices. Once they make it to the market they have to sell their animals at any price offered because they do not have the means to transport them back home. Livestock might even die on the way back, because they are too emaciated. Approximately half a million people and 90 percent of all cattle already migrated out of some areas in search of water, pasture and food. And naturally, these movements cause conflicts.

Resilience is key

However, Balich village showed me a picture of strength and perspective. CARE”s long-term support in Balich has helped people to resist the impacts of the drought and to prepare for times of hardship. CARE assisted the community to plant animal feed and crops by erecting water pumps and canals for better irrigation. Before, fetching water was a dangerous job: “My children are safe now when they get water. Before, they were threatened by crocodiles living in the nearby Tana river’, on woman told me. The key is resilience: empowering vulnerable people to overcome drought without losing all assets. With access to credit facilities, market linkages and a sustainable livestock marketing model, people are able to generate an income and save assets.The CARE projects in Balich show how important Disaster Risk Reduction initiatives are. But it has a side effect: Pastoralists from nearby villages are now increasingly bringing their livestock to Balich, putting pressure on the valuable water sources.

My visit to Balich reiterated what we know in theory and what we need more in practice: emergency support and long-term development initiatives that focus on creating resilience need to go hand in hand. This is the only way to break the hunger-cycle in chronic emergencies. However, funding for emergency is often easier accessible than funding for disaster risk reduction. I hope that the example of Balich shows how much we have achieved and how much money we can actually save when we invest in preparedness.

A picture of strength and perspective amidst drought image 1