drought

Responding to a Devastating Drought in Burkina Faso

women cooking grain

Women in Burkina Faso cook grain. The country is recovering from an extreme drought.

Dry weather can lead to disaster in developing countries. Without backup water supplies during a drought, food gets scarcer and more expensive, and people — usually the most vulnerable — become malnourished. This scenario repeats itself all over Africa, and Burkina Faso was one of the most recent countries stricken.   

However, this story has a happier ending than many, thanks to the leadership of Christian Children’s Fund Canada, part of the ChildFund Alliance. Beginning in April 2012, CCFC started a project that targeted 12,000 people at risk of illness and death related to malnutrition — mainly children under the age of 5 and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Canadian supporters and other Alliance partners, including ChildFund International, made donations that helped this project succeed.   

child at clinic

A child is checked for malnutrition with an upper-arm measuring device.

The project, which ended in December, provided supplementary feeding and related training; distributed food rations; supplied seeds and fertilizer; and distributed goats and sheep. In the end, about 19,000 people in 20 communities in Burkina Faso benefitted.

With some funds remaining and new funding coming in, the focus in Burkina Faso has now shifted to helping the communities prepare for future droughts and become more resilient.

Drought: A Worldwide Problem

By Loren Pritchett, ChildFund staff writer

withered crops

Withered crops

In recent months, more than 62 percent of U.S. states have experienced moderate to exceptional drought, and the children and families in our Oklahoma program areas are feeling the heat.

Crops like soy beans, wheat and corn have withered or died, producing low yields and forcing farmers to sell off livestock they can no longer afford to feed; while seasonal farm hands go without work. “Families who earn income in the summer months by helping with harvesting of hay and crops did not have jobs this summer,” says Linda Ehrhardt, ChildFund’s southern plains area manager.

With an already limited income, families in our Oklahoma program areas are bracing for what experts are predicting to be a nationwide surge in food prices. “Many of our families live on fixed incomes and receive assistance to help them feed their families,” Ehrhardt says. “The amount of that help does not increase every time the prices of groceries increase – leaving our families hungry by the end of the month.”

As ChildFund works with its local partners to monitor the situation and identify ways to support hard-hit families on the home front, we are reminded of the extreme hardships that millions of children and families in our programs in Africa have been experiencing since 2011. The severe drought that began last year in the Horn of Africa is mirrored in the Sahel region and continues to claim lives and destroy crops, livestock and families’ way of life.

In July 2011, food prices hit record highs in Ethiopia and Kenya and the number

Food distributions

Food distribution in Kenya

of individuals experiencing food insecurity grew to more than 3.75 million. With the help of ChildFund, local NGOs and government agencies, families living in those areas received clean drinking water and food assistance to help feed their children. For many, this was the kind of hope and opportunity needed to rebuild their broken communities, but, today, dry conditions are back.

This year, with the short rains failing and the long rains coming late, once again crop yields have been low in eastern and western Africa. Food prices have spiked and families are in trouble.

Food Distribution in the Gambia

Food distribution in the Gambia

This month, known as the lean season, Kenya will see food insecurity reach its peak. In Ethiopia, more than 3.76 million people will require food assistance until December. And in the Gambia, many children will be at risk for malnourishment or worse. Families who have planted crops are out of food and are depending on the small number of crops that will survive the drought. They will scramble for extra scraps and may even eat the seeds they had planned to plant next year. From now until October, food, milk and water will be hard to find.

Food Distribution

Food distribution in Ethiopia

Focusing our attention on the suffering in both eastern and western Africa, ChildFund will provide the necessary assistance to help families and children endure the drought season. It is paramount that we continue to provide access to clean water, sanitation and assistance with agricultural tools and activities but remedying food insecurity is even more pressing. ChildFund will provide food distributions, nutritional support and monitoring, as well as psychosocial support to help those experiencing the realities of drought.

For more information on how you can help children and families dealing with drought in our program areas, visit http://www.childfund.org/emergency_updates/ and help change a life.

Drought’s Terrible Toll

Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund president and CEO, recalls her work in East Africa during a drought in the 1980s. Accompanying her husband on a trip to a refugee camp, she took her healthy infant son, who was a stark contrast to the Ethiopian children near starvation. It was an experience she will never forget.

What If You Couldn’t Feed Your Family?

by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager

My small backyard garden hasn’t had much attention lately. It’s been oppressively hot this summer in Richmond, and we’ve had little rain in the past month. Suffice to say that I gave in to the elements and got a bit slack about nurturing my plants.

Veggies from the gardenBut this morning, following a refreshing overnight rain, I ventured out to the weed patch — er, garden — and poked around. I was disappointed to find my largest, yet not-quite-ripe, cantaloupe pocked with two bird beak-sized holes and its stem knocked off. The crowder peas, which yielded one family-size mess about a month ago, have now dried on the vine. The arugula has bolted and bloomed — nothing tasty there. I did manage to rescue a green pepper and a dozen small figs.

I had already started my mental list for the grocery store when it hit me hard. The children and families that ChildFund is rushing aid to in the Horn of Africa don’t have that option — not even close. They would be thrilled to have a damaged melon, a crisp pepper and a handful of figs. But what would they eat tomorrow?

And what would I do if I was depending on my meager garden to carry my family through three more months until the next harvest in November? I’d certainly be pulling out my weeding hoe and my garden hose. But wait — what if I’d already sold my tools to raise cash for food, and what if my community well had long since gone dry?

What would I do then?

It’s a grim thought, one that those of us in developed nations tend to quickly brush aside. Even with the ongoing economic uncertainty, the vast majority of us have plenty to eat and drink.

This afternoon, as I drive to the grocery store, I’ll be thinking more about necessities than luxuries. I should be able to save enough to make a donation to ChildFund’s ChildAlert Emergency Fund. I know the East African children who are hungry and thirsty are counting on my support.

Please join me.

Child Eagerly Awaits Respite from Drought

by Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Region Communications Manager

Ethiopia’s Oromo region has been hard-hit by the drought. Last year’s crops failed, leaving hundreds of thousands hungry. Although the rains have now come to some areas, the months between now and the November harvest remain dire due to dwindling food supplies. ChildFund is working with its local association partner to distribute relief food in the Siraro area, where ChildFund’s regional communications manager met 12-year-old Derartu.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Photo of Derartu in EthiopiaMy name is Derartu, and I live in Siraro District. I’m in fifth grade and attend Damine Gadana primary school. My father died when I was young, so my mother raises our family. I have seven siblings.

Tell me more about your family’s situation and how the drought has affected you.
My mom has a half hectare [1.2 acres], and we get food from our farm. Although the land is small, before the drought we could get enough food from this land for the whole family. We ate three times a day and were never hungry. I was going to school with a full stomach, attending class and actively involved.

This year I am not happy. I am struggling due to the absence of rain. My mom could not harvest maize, and we started to see a food shortage in our home. We started looking for food near the house, but it was not easy like before. My mother started going to market three days a week, walking 5 km [3.2 miles] away from our village for petty trade.

She bought maize and local cabbage to feed us. But it was not enough to feed all of us. The little food I ate wasn’t enough to keep me in my school. I love to study, but without regular food it was not easy.

Skipping lunch or dinner and still continuing school is just too hard — how to walk to school without food? How to study? I become hungry in the middle of the class and have no concentration. Due to lack of food, my academic performance is very low this year.

How has the support from ChildFund helped you and your family?
You just don’t know how happy I am — words can’t explain enough. The distribution of food from the organization will enable me to eat. I will not be hungry. I don’t want to be hungry again, and not have food at home to eat.

With this rain we are finally getting, we hope our crop will mature for harvest and we will start producing enough food again. Our life will hopefully get back to normal, and I will continue my education.

Citizens of the World: Respond to the Horn of Africa’s Call

by Victor Koyi, National Director, ChildFund Kenya

As our team in Kenya grapples with the worsening drought affecting more than 550,000 people in ChildFund program areas and more than 2.5 million across the population, our constant concern is the well-being of children, especially those five and younger. They are at the highest risk of death and life-long development issues due to inadequate food intake at a young age.

Photo of Kenya children with cups awaiting food

Children in Kenya's Turkana region await supplemental food. (Jake Lyell Photography)

Our analysis also shows a gap in the outreach to this vulnerable age category. Most drought-response efforts are targeting children in general, seeking to provide support through primary schools. But children in the 0 to 5 age range are not found in the basic schools. To assume that they are being reached through the general food distribution to their parents is taking a huge risk of excluding this developmentally critical age group.

To close this gap, ChildFund Kenya is targeting young children through existing structures we have in place on the ground, including health facilities and ECCD (early childhood care and development) centers, which are both home- and community-based. We’re also mobilizing our network of trained community health workers to deliver services and monitor child health. It is an efficient way to reach and serve this most vulnerable population. We’re also directing our services to expectant and lactating mothers as another means of ensuring we reach infants.

A number of interventions are under way. We are providing supplementary feeding in all ECCD centers in ChildFund’s seven operational areas: the North Rift region, the Lake region, Mt. Kenya region, Emali, Turkana, Mukuru and the Nairobi Integrated Project.

ChildFund staff check children's weight

ChildFund is monitoring the weight of children to spot undernutrition early. (Jake Lyell Photography)

In addition, we are trucking in potable water and setting up point-of-use water treatment stations, as well as providing training on hygiene and sanitation practices. Health interventions include monitoring child growth to spot malnutrition at the early stages, providing vitamin A and iron supplements, deworming and treating minor illnesses. We also are providing psychosocial support, which is essential to help children recover from the trauma as well as cope with the situation.

In all of our drought responses, we are linking up with any partners also working in the area, including the government and the World Food Program. We’re also positioning ChildFund to respond to an increase in drought severity anticipated in the next few months.

Already the malnutrition rates in Turkana stand at 37 percent — way above the 15 percent threshold established by WHO for emergency conditions. Interventions to improve the health status of children in these hard-hit areas, especially pastoralist populations, present a huge challenge. This population’s near-constant migration in search of food and water limits their children’s access to primary and emergency health services.

A different but equal challenge exists in Kenya’s urban areas. Due to hunger, children remain in the house instead of going to school. This limits their access to education and basic health care as well as nutrition support.

In Kenya’s worst-hit areas, we do not have the luxury of time. We must act now or consign huge numbers of our population to fate, and that is contrary to the spirit of our joint humanity and resolve.

Our commitment as front-line development workers is to save lives. Our appeal to citizens of the world is to respond to this call to save young children facing the ultimate risk.

ChildFund Responds to Guatemala Drought

by Anne Edgerton
ChildFund Disaster Management Team Leader

Anne with children.

Guatemala is experiencing the beginning of a nutritional emergency caused by drought in the country’s eastern region, known as the coredor seco — the dry corridor.

The lack of rainfall caused some Guatemalans to lose their entire harvest for 2009. The loss will have a year-long impact on these agricultural communities, as each family normally stores its harvest until the next rainy season. They depend on their crops to provide food for all family members.

This crisis is predicted to increase in gravity this month. In the coming months, affected families will not only lack their own food stores, the poorest community members will be unable to purchase food, as prices spike during a drought.

In Guatemala, the agricultural sector accounts for one-fourth of national GDP. The drought has already generated a high local unemployment rate, eliminating subsistence agriculture as a form of employment.

A Guatemalan (former sponsored child) surveys the dry countryside.

Given all of these deteriorating conditions, malnutrition is already present in children under age five in some communities. In response, ChildFund Guatemala is redirecting funds in affected communities to address this crisis. We will be providing nutritional supplementary food to the most vulnerable children in ChildFund communities. In addition, we will be working with parents on the use of kitchen gardens and orchards and providing education on nutritional health. By introducing alternative resources and skills, we aim to help children and families better cope with this crisis.

In the eastern areas where ChildFund works, there are no other international partners. ChildFund will use current community-based monitoring systems and will increase coordination with Guatemala’s Ministry of Health as a means of strengthening community management of malnutrition.

To donate to the ChildAlert emergency fund, click here.

Daily Struggles Due to Kenyan Drought

Today we are taking part in Blog Action Day, joining thousands of other bloggers around the world to post about the same topic – climate change. Blog Action Day started in 2007 as a way to get bloggers to create buzz around one subject. “The blogging community effectively changes the conversation on the web and focuses audiences around the globe on [one] issue,” Blog Action Day organizers say on their Web site, www.blogactionday.org.

In recent weeks we have seen Mother Nature at her worst. She has brought severe flooding to two countries we have visited for our “31 in 31” blog series – the Philippines and India. Today for Blog Action Day and our “31 in 31” series, we visit Kenya, another country hit by Mother Nature – or in this case, not hit. Kenya has an extreme drought. In many areas of Africa where ChildFund works, climate change has led to droughts lasting longer, causing famine and driving millions more people into poverty.

31 in 31Children and families in Kenya struggle daily to get enough food because the lack of rainfall has led to severe crop destruction. The Turkana District in the northwest region of the country is experiencing high rates of malnutrition, especially for children under the age of 5.

The drought is leading to the deaths of hundreds of animals throughout the country, according to news reports. Kenyans rely on these animals as a source of nutritious food and as a means of income.

“This is a very ugly scene, a very disturbing scene that the country is facing,” Livestock Minister Mohamed Kuti told a Reuters blogger.

ChildFund International is conducting feeding programs and food distribution throughout the hardest hit areas where we work. We are distributing a highly nutritious food blend, known as “plumpy nut,” as an immediate and critical intervention for those already severely malnourished. In addition, we will provide oil, maize, beans and sugar. These few simple food items can mean the difference between life and death.

For the latest details on the drought situation in Kenya and other emergencies throughout the world, click here. For more information about our work in Kenya, click here.

More on Kenya
Population: 39 million
ChildFund beneficiaries: More than 1.1 million children and families
Did You Know?: You can find all of the “Big Five” African animals in Kenya: elephant, buffalo, lion, rhino and leopard.

What’s next: A sponsor’s big heart for Mexico’s children.

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