By Loren Pritchett, ChildFund staff writer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My 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.
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.
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.
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.