Zeinab crouches on the floor of the straw hut, her hands shaking, her eyes distant. Four of her young children hover listlessly around her. “I have fever,” she stammers to the Kenya Red Cross nutritionist, who’s in Busbus village to promote a health visit to this community in north-east Kenya next week.
Zeinab has a small amount of grain, but no appetite to eat it. Her children too are struggling to eat and regularly experience diarrhoea. “It has been like this for two weeks,” she whispers.
Her four older children have gone with their father to find pasture for their goats – a rare thing in a place that has not seen rain for almost 18 months.
No rain, no food
Acute malnutrition rates are at 22 percent in this part of Kenya. With no rain, no food is growing and shallow wells ran dry months ago. Communities rely on food aid and water brought in by non-governmental organisations.
“Each family gets 40 litres of water twice a week,” explains Guliye Osman, the local primary school teacher. “It’s not enough. As a minimum we need 100 litres. With that we can also wash our clothes and stay clean. But we can’t get more; the nearest well is 60 kilometres away.”
Healthcare for rural communities
The Kenya Red Cross medical outreach programme will reach 200,000 people living far from health facilities over the next six months. They will screen for malnutrition, give vaccinations to children and treat other health problems.
On leaving Busbus village, the community elder gives permission to the Kenya Red Cross team to take Zeinab to the local clinic. The facilities are basic; there’s only one doctor and few medications, but at least she will get help to recover and her children will receive nutritional supplements to build up their strength.
Helping malnourished children
As part of the Red Cross response, children attending the local school receive a daily ration of a food supplement called Unimix, high in nutrients and energy. But this too is not without its problems. “Today we have no water, so we can’t make the meal for the children. We hope that a water truck will arrive today,” admits Osman.
The long-term lack of a good diet has serious effects, explains Caleb Chemirmir, Kenya Red Cross regional health officer: “Today I’ve seen children with rickets. For conditions like this to appear, children have lacked minerals and vitamins for a long time. The prolonged drought is certainly taking its toll here. Last year, malnutrition rates were high at 15 percent, but now it’s so much higher.”
As the Kenya Red Cross health teams move tireless across this remote part of Kenya they will meet many more people like Zeinab, on the margins of survival. But with continued funding they will bring life-saving treatment and give hope as the drought continues. And after the crisis has finished, the Red Cross will still be here, helping people stay healthy.
Read about the East Africa Food Crisis Appeal