NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 2 – An ideal breakfast for a three-year-old could go something like; a glass of milk, some cereals, porridge and fruits. Even in my village which is relatively a common man’s land he/she could at least get a cup of tea and a piece of left-over Ugali.
But in Kanani village, Kibwezi district, three-year-old John Musau is collecting some wild fruits for breakfast, as his mother Esther Murumba watches. Mrs Murumba tells us that although the fruits are not fit for human consumption she has nothing else to give her seven children.
Mrs Murumba is, infact, considered lucky to have the only tree in Kanani village. “When we wake up in the morning there are so many children collecting these fruits,” she says standing on her bare piece of land. She has not seen a harvest for the last three years.
Young Musau presents a desolate picture of realities parents are facing each day. With the raging famine affecting over 10 million Kenyans, children have been introduced to a new menu – wild fruits or mangoes for breakfast, lunch and at times supper.
“Life is unbearable. Our children could possibly die of hunger,” Mzee Patrick Kumaka tells me, desperation written all over his face. You can sense the pain and helplessness in his voice.
Our fact-finding mission in UKambani is full of contrasts. We leave a cold Nairobi after a relatively good rain overnight. But as we pass Mlolongo, sharp sun rays hit the now bare land, the temperature suddenly rises.
You might be deceived by patches of green vegetation at Makindu town, (it had rained a week ago), but this too will be gone in a week unless it rains again.
Our focus for the January 27 mission is Kibwezi district. Here, over 50,000 people are at the brink of hunger. The land is fertile but failed rains have rendered the residents here beggars. Their bare large tracts of land are a daily reminder of the desperate situation here.
At age 60 one could ideally be enjoying his retirement at home. But for Mzee Kumaka life has not been that fair. He is struggling to feed his equally aged wife and a son and being at the heart of Ukambani which is currently ravaged by famine, this is arguable a heavy toll.
When Mzee Kumaka got his five-acre parcel of land in 2006 he thought his troubles were over having struggled for over 30 years to get it. But he was damn wrong. All he has known in the three years of farming is crop failure. Rains in the region have failed since then and he has not harvested a grain.
“We had turned to charcoal burning for sale but we are getting very little from it now,” Mr Kumaka says. The locals have depleted all the bushes and are now invading the nearby Kyulu game park. One bag sells for a mere Sh200. “to get one bag you can take up to a week,” Mr Kumaka says.
Faith Nzioka stares at me with an expectant look, probably hoping that I have brought something to eat from Nairobi. She is surrounded by her two children; hunger is evident on their faces.
“My husband goes up the Kyulu hills daily to look for miraa (khat) for sale but at times he comes home empty handed,” she says.
Malnutrition has already been reported in this area. Makindu District Hospital Medical Superintendent Saidi Shabaan says children are worst affected. The Hospital, Dr Shabaan said, feeds the children with milk, eggs and porridge in the period they are being treated, but has nothing for them to take home.
“So far we have received 93 children with Kwashiorkor and 331 with growth retardation,” he told us, adding that one child was in a critical condition, suffering from severe malnutrition.
Kibwezi’s is not an isolated case. Red Cross statistics show that over two million people in lower eastern region are facing hunger. They will have to depend on relief food for at least another four months, hoping that the long rains expected end of this month come in on time and in sufficient amounts. But even relief food is not forthcoming.
President Mwai Kibaki has declared the famine a national disaster and launched an international appeal for Sh37 billion worth of relief food. Several countries and organisations have registered their support but as the logistical arrangements take time to be completed sad stories of hungry Kenyans dominate the press daily.
The government has also removed import duty on all food items to help ease the shortage.