Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
Vital Signs

Rain 'not enough' to end hunger in Kenya

By Mark Tutton, CNN
  • Years of drought in Horn of Africa have led to a widespread food shortages
  • Aid workers say recent rains won't be enough to end hunger there
  • 3.8 million Kenyans and 6.2 million Ethiopians are in need of food assistance

Images and field interviews are courtesy of aid organization Plan and photographer Alf Berg.

London, England (CNN) -- Recent rainfall has brought new vegetation to parts of Kenya that haven't seen rain for years, but aid workers say it's too little, too late to undo the damage caused by years of drought.

Kenya is experiencing its worst drought for a decade, according to Peter Smerdon of the UN World Food Program (WFP), with parts of the country having gone for four years without rain.

Smerdon told CNN the drought has brought food shortages to the entire Horn of Africa, with 3.8 million Kenyans and 6.2 million Ethiopians still in need of food assistance.

He said that in some parts of Kenya, one in five children under the age of five is suffering from malnutrition.

Alf Berg is a photographer with aid organization Plan. He was recently in Machakos in south-east Kenya, and Shebedino in southern Ethiopia, where he met some of those affected by years of low rainfall.

"I photographed a family in Machakos where the father was about to die of TB, and he hadn't been eating properly for two or three years," Berg told CNN.

"I talked to another man who had lost 26 of his 32 cattle in the last three weeks -- so it's not just a food security issue, it's a financial security issue too."

October's rains may be enough to officially end the drought, but Berg said they will not be enough to end food shortages in the region.

"Machakos received some rain this year, but before that they had received no rain for four years," he said. "Most of the livestock in the area died over the last two months because there was no foliage in the area."

"The irony is that I tended to photograph lush, green areas, but at the same time I was seeing cows that didn't have the strength to stand up. Two or three weeks into the rain they were still as weak as that."

In fact, Smerdon told CNN that livestock mortality rates actually increased immediately following the rains, as already weakened cows suffered from the cold and contracted illnesses.

Smerdon said that the people worst affected by the droughts were nomadic herders in arid regions in northern Kenya and subsistence farmers on the coast.

It rained, but it doesn't change the problems for those people who have lost just about everything.
--Peter Smerdon, World Food Program

"A lot of nomadic herders have lost their livestock and now have less than the minimum number of animals a family needs to survive," he said.

"OK, it rained, but it doesn't change the problems for those people who have lost just about everything," he continued.

Smerdon said these people will need humanitarian assistance for many months, until their herds are replenished or they can borrow money to buy new cattle.

He added that years of drought have meant that many coastal farmers have had to eat the seeds they would otherwise have planted, and have been forced to sell their farming implements and livestock to make ends meet. That means they won't be able to plant crops to take advantage of the recent rain.

"The rains mean they don't have to travel so far to get water, and the price of water has been reduced quite significantly, but it doesn't dig them out of the financial hole they find themselves in -- it just means they're going down slower," Smerdon told CNN.

While the drought hasn't led to famine, long-term food shortages have had a devastating impact on whole communities.

Dr Issa Kipera is Plan's country director for Ethiopia. He told CNN that those who don't get enough food are more susceptible to disease and lack the energy to work, meaning their productivity decreases, creating a poverty cycle.

"Children suffer stunted growth, which affects their development and capacity in later life," said Kipera.

"Many drop out of school because they cannot concentrate on an empty stomach or walk the long distances to get to school, which means they have the consequences of not having an education."

Kipera said the Ethiopian government predicts the food crisis could be over by March 2010, but Smerdon cautioned that rainfall in the region has been declining for the past 20 years and there is a real chance that rains could fail again next year.

"The rains will probably bring down the numbers in need of assistance but not by a great deal," Smerdon told CNN. "The situation is better, but we're not out of the woods yet."