Victims of bandit attacks, floods ravished by hunger
Cheptoiyo Lodowian is a 22-year-old Pokot mother of four in the remote village of Domo in Tiaty, Baringo County. The last food she and her children ate was the previous evening’s meal. It was ugali and boiled sukuma wiki.
The day is Sunday, the time 2pm.A group of journalists and World Vision-Kenya workers on a fact-finding mission has just come across Lodowian washing clothes and giving her children a bath at a shallow water pan in Tirioko ward.
Her children run around naked and she herself is half-dressed. They have no change of clothes just those on their backs, which they wash, dry and put on again.
“Our last meal is the supper we took last night of ugali and a boiled bundle of sukuma wiki,” she tells us. Not only do they have to worry about lack of food but their safety as well.
There is an ongoing security operation in Tiaty Sub County to flash out bandits who have been terrorizing neighboring communities. Baringo has suffered frequent bandit attacks since January that have claimed the lives of 10 people.
Livestock has been stolen and hundreds of residents displaced along the borders of Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet and Turkana counties.
During the interview Lodowian sits down and tries to breastfeed her one-year-old child. Not a drop of milk comes out of her breast and the child begins to cry. At the water pan her three-year old daughter Jesang Lorus washes her head and hands, and drinks the dirty water. The risk of contracting a waterborne disease is an ever-present reality. Lodowian tells us the children took fresh cow milk in the morning and haven’t had anything to eat.
“This has been our life since January. We haven’t received any relief food from government agencies, donors or well-wishers for the last three years,” she says. The lack of food exposes her children to malnutrition conditions such as kwashiorkor, marasmus and anaemia.
In Riongo village, Tiaty Sub County lives 80-year old Ng’irokwiang Lorimo. She says she hasn’t eaten for three days.
“I had my last piece of ugali on Friday and since then I have been surviving on porridge I prepare from Ujimix flour I received at AIC Mission Lodengo Dispensary,” she says. All her livestock perished in the last drought.
During the interview she drinks a lot of water, an indication of just how hungry she is. Last year, at least 20 residents, mostly children and the elderly succumbed to hunger-related illness in Tiaty and Baringo North subcounties.It is not just the Pokot who are hungry.
More than 800 Tugen families displaced by suspected Pokot bandits in Kagir, Yatya, Ngaratuko, Kosile, Chemoe and Barkwtiew in Baringo North are also going hungry.
“We have been left in the wilderness [facing] death. No single leader has visited us to listen to our issues,” says Monica Kipkechem. Kipkechem raises her 15 children in a run-down structure in Chepkowel village on the volatile border of Baringo North and Tiaty.
The internally displaced people are living in the bush in Sibilo, Chepkowel, Rondinin, Chapin, Chebarsiat, Rormoch and Koiboware.
The IDPs are mostly children, pregnant women and the elderly. More than 20,000 Turkanas living in IDP camps are also facing acute starvation.
“We are totally forgotten. We are only surviving by the grace of God,” elder Paulo Lowoi tells the Star in Kampi Turkana village near Marigat town, Baringo South.
The families fled their homes following bandit attacks in Kapedo, Napeitom, Lokori, Lomelo and Nadome on the border of Baringo and Turkana counties.
“Since then we have been left to survive on our own. Poverty and joblessness are killing us,” Lowoi says.
Other affected Turkanas are putting up in temporary structures in Marigat, Kampi ya Saki, Mochongoi, Sogeri, Eldama-Ravine and Mogotio.
Governor Stanley Kiptis says the food donated by his administration is too little to feed the entire hungry population. He urges donors, humanitarian agencies and well-wishers to intervene.
The county is inhabited by the Pokot, Tugen and Ilchamus pastoralist communities spread over Baringo North, Tiaty and Baringo South.
“ Majority of our pastoralists cannot afford or access a balanced diet due to lack of crop farming owing to aridity and inconsistence of rainfall in the area,” says Kiptalam. He notes that illiteracy, drought and acute water shortage are major causes of escalating poverty.
“People still depend solely on livestock for their livelihood, which is unsustainable.” Local leaders such as Tiaty MP William Kamket are concerned about the worsening hunger situation and have appealed to the national government to intervene.
“This is not a joke. People are hungry in this part of the country owing to prolonged droughts and so there is need for urgent food supplies” he said.
In Baringo South, MP Charles Kamuren is worried about hundreds of displaced flood victims. “Several irrigation schemes were covered by water after the swollen River Perkerra and Lake Baringo burst their banks,” he says.
World Vision-Kenya Lokis-based area development programme coordinator Geoffrey Mwaura says the hunger situation is almost getting out of hand.
He says in 2014 to 2017 he trained residents on nutrition and irrigable farming but water shortage due to persistent droughts has been a challenge.
“Out of the 75 people we trained only 40 have managed to utilize the little rain-harvested water in small farm ponds to do some mixed crop farming. The rest of the population still goes hungry,” Mwaura says.
He says the families are enjoying good health compared to those who are yet to buy the idea.
“I urge the people to embrace modern farming methods to better their lives.” Among the beneficiaries is Evelyn Kemei in Ng’oron village where residents took up faring in August 2019.
“It has really improved my household income, nutrition for my children and I can even pay school fees somehow comfortably,” she says.
Apart from farming, some groups have been trained on other income-generating activities such as soap-making.
But those who are willing to try out something different are very few, Mwaura says. Majority of residents own large herds of livestock but are still going hungry, relyng wholly on relief food.
County commissioner Henry Wafula, however, denies that the hunger situation is getting worse. He says the government is doing everything possible to supply the locals with relief food.
“We shall try and make sure people get food and water,” he said, adding that the national and county governments recently released rice and maize for disaster victims.
Wafula says the ongoing security operation to flush out bandits in Tiaty is meant to restore peace. “People must be able to coexist peacefully so they can carry out their normal economic activities without any fear of attacks.”