Battling Drought, Malnutrition and the Desperation for Safe – Clean Water

by Amref Health Africa

Balambala sub-county lies in the arid heartland of Garissa County, Kenya – a region profoundly affected by the relentless grip of drought. The unforgiving natural disaster has not only dried the earth but also drained the vitality of its people. In this harsh environment, the lack of water has become a poignant symbol of struggle, leading to grave consequences such as women walking long distances of at least 10 kilometres in search of water, adolescent boys and girls missing out on school – often charged with the responsibility of looking after the animals, searching for water or looking after their younger siblings when parents set out to look for livelihood; families facing acute food scarcity, and malnourished children fighting for survival – paint a distressing picture!

Balambala sub-county has long been at the mercy of drought. The once fertile lands have transformed into a dry, sandy-filled landscape, where water sources have dwindled to mere trickles. The periodic rainfall,  essential for agriculture, has become an elusive luxury, leaving the earth barren and the people desperate.

Every day is a gruelling reality, a journey in search of water among women and adolescent boys and girls. With traditional water sources running dry, they embark on treacherous walks spanning miles (8-10 kilometres), carrying empty containers representing their families’ hopes. These journeys are physically exhausting and time-consuming, robbing them of educational opportunities, health-seeking and economic empowerment. Walking through the thicket of thorny bushes poses a grave risk of being attacked by wild animals like hyenas, lions, wild dogs, warthogs, and snake bites.

Community voices across Balambala share their daily experiences and wish of every community member:-

“We need support to buy food for our children – we buy clean water at a cost of ksh. 120 for a 20-litre jerrycan, which is expensive for us”. Sometimes it isn’t easy to go to the hospital because I have to choose between getting water for my household or going to the hospital. – Berlin, a resident of Dujis, Balambala sub-County, Garissa

The lack of water affects daily life and disrupts the educational aspirations of Balambala’s youth, who are forced to miss school to aid their families in the quest for water search. The precious hours that should be spent in classrooms are instead consumed by the arduous task of securing this basic necessity. As a result, dreams are deferred, and the cycle of poverty persists.

“With my grandchildren, we walk long distances, 8 kilometres, to search for water. We had a borehole near the health facility, but it broke down – we also have a dam nearby, but the dam dried up due to drought. My grandchildren don’t go to school, we need water, and with my old age, they help me at home. We are just surviving, hoping a well-wisher will rescue us”. – Zainab Abdi Nuriay, a resident in Hadley ward, Mbalabala sub-county, Garissa.

With drought decimating agricultural yields, Balambala faces acute food scarcity. Families are left with meagre rations, and malnutrition has become a pervasive issue, especially among young children. The lack of proper nutrition weakens their immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases like pneumonia, diarrhoea, and malaria, further exacerbating the challenges faced by the community.

“We depend on our animals for food – meat and milk. During the long drought, the animals died, leaving us hopeless. I could not provide food for my young boy, the struggle became too tough, I could not breastfeed – “I do not have breast milk, I have nothing to eat” – my child became malnourished. – Sahara Ismal Hassan, lives in Shimbrey, Balambala Sub-County, Garissa

“We have to hold together, stay united and share our meagre resources, support one another, and demonstrate an unwavering determination to overcome the challenges posed by the drought”. We appeal to more well-wishers and partners to come on board and help us address the challenges, especially water shortage – it would be sustainable if we had more Community leaders, community health promoters and health workers all work tirelessly to raise awareness and seek assistance and implement sustainable solutions to end the suffering of their community members.

To avert the situation, Amref Health Africa in Kenya, with support from Comic Relief, is implementing a Drought Response programme in the county to help address hunger and drought-related problems. The government is working tirelessly to tackle hunger crises in the most affected areas but cannot handle the magnitude of the problem alone. Amref is working to address the short-term challenges brought about by the drought by initiating measures to address acute malnutrition, unsafe and inadequate water supplies, poor hygiene and sanitation, and related diseases among the most vulnerable community members – children under age five and pregnant and lactating women. 

Through collaborative efforts, we can help Balambala sub-county and many other areas within Garissa County have a reason to smile. Let us provide them, safe and clean water sources for domestic and animal use, ensure the youth have access to educational opportunities, and access nutritional support to transform their lives. The support required should be a timely intervention to enable them to break free from the vicious cycle of drought-induced despair. The government must bear witness to their plight and start walking the talk – it is our collective responsibility to ensure that Balambalas story transforms from struggle to triumph over adversity.

Co-authored by Noah Wekesa W. – Communications, Amref Health Africa (HQ & Kenya) and Dr. Kennedy Wakoli, SRH Specialist – Family and Reproductive Health Directorate. Amref Health Africa in Kenya

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