The Horn of Africa – an area including countries such as Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia – is on the brink of famine, as remote communities enter their fifth year of drought.
After seasons of failed crops, many families have lost up to 95 per cent of their livestock. People have been displaced due to crop failure, drought, political conflict between tribes and, more recently, flooding as well.
“In the north of Kenya along the Kenya-Ethiopia border there’s been torrential flooding,” says missionary Norm Gorrie. “Their houses are washing away, any food stocks [people have] have been destroyed, they have to go to churches or mosques for help, and the few animals that remained have died in the flooding. That’s pretty heartbreaking.”
Mr Gorrie is a missionary with the Church Missionary Society, working for the Diocese of Marsabit in Kenya as its director of mission. He and his wife Janelle served in Kenya for a decade in the ’90s, and returned in 2017 to serve again. They say they have never seen circumstances as dire as this before, and neither have the locals.
The situation is so bad that local families have resorted to eating poisonous berries. “We met families where parents had just left their kids with elderly relatives to search for whatever they could,” Mr Gorrie says. “The berries are really bitter – they have to be boiled for 12 hours so they don’t poison the kids. They’re just so desperate; sometimes they can’t wait the 12 hours. Some places don’t even have berries and [those families] just sleep hungry.”
Even though rain has come, there are still numerous challenges for farming. The ground cannot be ploughed because the oxen are weak or dead, and trying to secure a loan for a tractor is difficult. Plants and seeds are expensive, and wild animals are so hungry they devour any green shoots that do spring up.
Despite the many hardships locals are experiencing, at this stage the situation in the Horn of Africa is classed as a “food emergency” – one level below famine. A famine is defined as one in five households experiencing an extreme lack of food, more than one in three children under five suffering from acute malnutrition and 2 out of 10,000 people dying daily from hunger.
Anglican Aid’s East Africa appeal is working with partners in Kenya and Ethiopia to provide food aid through local churches.
Joseph, an Anglican pastor in northern Kenya, says seeing the suffering of his congregation is heartbreaking. “People in this desperate situation are doing whatever they can to feed their children,” he says. “We share the word of God with them, but because they are so hungry it’s difficult for them to respond.”
Adds Mr Gorrie: “If no-one comes alongside you [when you’ve lost everything] and gives assistance, you feel abandoned. Just for people to know they are not abandoned and that there is hope is a wonderful thing. A praise point is that we can get food to people, because we have people on the ground here.
“Pray that people would see the goodness of God – we only really see that in the cross of Christ. Out and in and through this [crisis], God has his good purposes to bring people to Christ. Pray that those who know Christ… would know he is in control.”