Cattle are dying at an alarming rate in rural Kenya (Photo credit: Paula Alderblad)
Susan Kigen-Kolum – MAF Kenya’s new country director and former aircraft engineer – has been in post for six months. Susan chats to MAF’s Claire Gilderson about how MAF Kenya is navigating one of the worst natural disasters the country has seen in decades
Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia have not had a proper rainy season for six consecutive years.
Thousands of hectares of crops have shrivelled up and scarce water supplies have driven over three million people from their homes causing insecurity, malnutrition, poverty and conflict (source: UNHCR).
Previous rainy seasons in Kenya have failed (Photo credit: Thorkild Jørgensen)
Livestock do not have enough to eat or drink (Photo credit: Paula Alderblad)
Oxfam has called Kenya’s food security situation ‘unprecedented’ and predicts the number of people facing severe hunger will rise by one million people from 4.4 million to 5.4 million between March and June this year.
One in five Kenyans don’t have enough clean water to drink and 95% of water sources in northern Kenya – where MAF predominantly operates – have dried up. Many people have no choice but to drink dirty water, which can cause cholera and diarrhoea – totally preventable diseases.
Communities are selling animals to buy water
Many Kenyan pastoralist communities live in the isolated areas of Marsabit and Turkana up north, and Kajiado down south (the Maasai people), near the Tanzania border.
RedTribe Director Pelua Ole Siloma (R) in front of mud hut (Photo credit: Paula Alderblad)
Pastoralists’ livelihoods are dependent on their livestock (Photo credit: Paula Alderblad)
Pastoralists make a living from their livestock, but millions of animals have died from hunger and thirst. Many who are fortunate enough to own animals which are still alive, have had to sell them just to buy food and water.
Pastoralists are selling their animals before they die
MAF Kenya’s new country director Susan Kigen-Kolum (Photo credit: Jacqueline Mwende)
Susan Kigen-Kolum – MAF Kenya’s new country director – witnessed this first-hand during recent visits to Kargi Village in Marsabit County and Lolita Hills in Kajiado County:
‘I flew with MAF and spoke to communities who hadn’t seen good rain for at least 3 years. It was extremely hot and dry. I saw very malnourished children and elderly people. Many animals and crops have died. Some of the community have migrated in search of water. Others are selling their animals before they die to survive.
‘A family can order and buy a 20-litre jerry can of water, but it takes 3 weeks before it arrives and then someone from the family has to travel very far to get that jerry can. They have to use the water very wisely as a family so they don’t run out.’
Susan Kigen-Kolum – MAF Kenya Country Director
Once their livestock has gone, there is no milk to feed their babies. When the water runs out, these communities are left with nothing.
Without milk from their livestock, children will go without (photo credit: Paula Alderblad)
Without water, pastoralists face a bleak future (photo credit: Paula Alderblad)
Wider implications of water shortages
Desperate to survive, parents are sending their children to fetch water instead of sending them to school says Susan:
‘Kids have stopped going to school because they are walking long distances to find water. They leave in the morning and come back in the evening with around five litres of water per child. More children mean more water for the family, but the drought has interrupted their schooling a lot.’
Fetching water is affecting children’s education (photo credit: Paula Alderblad)
Inter-tribal conflict has also increased explains Susan:
‘The drought has escalated the fight for pasture, which has become very limited. If each pastoralist has 100 camels and 200 goats, there is definitely conflict if they are all struggling to share the same resources. Some people are stealing animals, which also causes fighting. Communal conflict often spills onto the roads making overland travel dangerous.’
MAF can provide safe and swift passage enabling partners to reach their destination quickly, without the risk of getting caught up in clashes on the road.
MAF provides safe, swift passage for partners (photo credit: Paula Alderblad)
MAF is the only operator to fly to isolated Marsabit
According to Susan, 99% of MAF’s flights in Kenya – up to four flights per week – are currently drought related. MAF partners tackling the effects of drought include Food for the Hungry, Concern Worldwide and Red Tribe.
Food for the Hungry (FFTH) – an international NGO which tackles poverty – has been flying with MAF more than ever before. Most weeks they have been benefiting from MAF’s weekly Marsabit shuttle service from the capital Nairobi, which only takes around 1 hour, 45 minutes saving them a 12-hour road journey.
MAF is the only operator to fly to Marsabit (photo credit: Mussa Uwitonze)
As frequent fliers, they have used MAF more than 40 times since early 2022 to help remote pastoralists gain better access to livestock feed, improve animal health, coordinate essential supplies for families most affected by the drought and to provide emergency water. Given that MAF is the only operator to fly to Marsabit, FFTH would not be able to carry out their work effectively without MAF says Susan:
‘There are no other flights to Marsabit County. Commercial operators concentrate on the nice well-paved airstrips in city airports, but not the remote locations up north – there’s no money there to attract them.
‘Without MAF, our partners would spend up to 12 hours on the road to get to where they are going and the roads aren’t very good. With MAF, they are able reach communities in good time and work with them. Flying with MAF is a better use of their time and resources instead of spending days on the road risking an attack on their vehicle.’
Concern Worldwide – another MAF partner which tackles poverty in Marsabit Country – is regularly flying personnel to facilitate cash support for vulnerable people, transporting healthcare workers to treat severe malnutrition and restoring boreholes to extract water.
Empowering the Maasai
RedTribe – another frequent flier – which empowers the isolated Maasai community in southern Kenya is focusing on planting 250 acres of maize and beans, delivering food parcels to those in need and expanding their water project to reach as many isolated communities as possible.
The team pipe fresh spring water from the hills to the villages. Around 3,500 people now have access to clean water, but another 6,000 are in desperate need.
MAF flew volunteers to Enairebuk to install a new water system (photo credit: RedTribe)
Around 3,500 Maasai people now have access to clean water (photo credit: Paula Alderblad)
MAF is helping RedTribe to implement the above by regularly transporting their personnel to Enairebuk Airstrip near the Loita Hills in Kajiado County. MAF’s 40-minute flight saves them a seven-hour journey by road.
MAF has a key part to play
Since 1959, MAF has been reaching Kenya’s isolated communities. At a time when Kenya is facing the ‘worst drought in 40 years’, Susan is proud to support partners who are transforming lives:
‘Even if we aren’t drilling the boreholes and providing the food ourselves, MAF is partnering with organisations who are, and lives are being transformed. It’s encouraging that our contribution is saving the lives of people who are affected by this drought.’
With or without the drought, MAF has been an integral part to northern Kenya’s development for many years. MAF will still be there after the drought passes concludes Susan:
‘Northern Kenya is our priority – not just because of the drought but because of everything else. There’s also a lack of education, healthcare and ongoing inter-tribal conflict.
‘Thanks to our supporters, we are able to subsidise MAF flights so more communities who are struggling can be reached. We really appreciate their generosity.’
MAF enables partners to reach struggling communities (photo credit: Paula Alderblad)