After months of bruising drought, rain has finally come to Kenya. The cracked earth is changing to red mud, the air filling with the smell of rain and green things, and frogs are singing again in riverbeds that have started to gradually fill with water. The much-needed rains have begun to rejuvenate pasture for those cattle and goats that have survived through the long dry period. It also provides a welcome relief to people who have had to trek up to 20 kilometers in search of water.
But although the rain has satisfied the need for water in most areas in Kenya, it has not helped the food shortages caused by the drought. Farmers have begun to plant their fields, but harvests will only come in February next year.
Nolkitemu Lelesara is among the 3.8 million drought affected Kenyans who are receiving food assistance from the United Nations World Food Programme. Lelesara is a pastoralist in the Samburu region of Kenya. Here, much of the famed wildlife has died from lack of water, and pastoralist livestock has also been similarly affected. Now, for the first in many months, the skinny goats and cattle are able to graze on emerging green grass. But Lelesara is only cautiously optimistic.
“We need this food assistance to continue,” Lelesara says, “It will take some time for us to be able to get food for ourselves, and our animals will take time to grow healthy and produce milk and cows.”
But, alongside the relief that comes with the rain, there are fears of flooding, particularly in north eastern parts of Kenya. El Nino, the periodic temperature change in surface waters that affects regional weather patterns, is the cause of these heavy rains. In 1997, the El Nino phenomenon caused severe flooding in Kenya. Water borne diseases, and more deaths amongst people and livestock followed. Climate experts estimate that there is a 70 percent chance that floods could occur in the next few months.
WFP has already pre-positioned food for its refugee and drought operations to ensure that those most in need will not go hungry, when rains make the roads impassable. In a land that has been parched by the sun, boats are now on standby to distribute emergency relief.