East Africa food crisis: Shattered drought economy may take 15 years to recover without support

Published: 15 March 2006

Pastoralists struck by the current East African drought may take 15 years to recover their livelihoods unless they are given appropriate support, said international aid agency Oxfam International today.

With death rates of cattle herds in some areas topping 95%, local economies are crumbling. In Wajir in North East Kenya, up to 70% of small shops have closed because customers are unable to repay mounting debts.

In many areas, two-thirds of people are reliant on food aid but in some parts of Wajir it is much higher than this. Mohamed Ali, a resident of Dambas in Wajir, where 98% of people are currently reliant on food aid, told Oxfam:

"During lean periods the shops would bail us out with credit, but now nearly all the shops have been run down by giving too much credit and not receiving any payment back. I don't know how we'll get through this period. So many people are on the brink."

Regenerating the economy once the immediate crisis passes will require the international community to provide cash-for-work and restocking programs to help pastoralists recover. It will also require stronger commitment from the Government of Kenya to improve health, education, infrastructure and other basic services for pastoralist communities.

Based on previous experience of the 1992 drought, local elders in Wajir estimate that, without aid for regeneration, it could take 15 years for a herd of 120 cows decimated by this drought to recover its original size.

Antar Ahmed, 76, lost all but 9 of his 52 cattle in the 1992. His herd recovered to 85 by 2004, of which just 2 are left alive.

"Now that our livestock have perished, our own lives are in mortal danger," he says.

The extent of the food crisis is accelerating, with the numbers of children requiring emergency supplementary feeding in Wajir up 50% since January, according to health charity Merlin, which is working in partnership with Oxfam to respond to the crisis.

Pastoralism is the only viable way of life that has proven able to sustain itself despite many shocks in these arid landscapes, with the livestock sector providing 95% of household income. In 2002 livestock production accounted for 10% of Kenyan GDP, much of it accounted for by the work of pastoralists.

Paul Smith-Lomas, Oxfam regional director said: "Pastoralism is a viable livelihood and makes an important contribution to the Kenyan economy. But there is an urgent need for improved development and economic policies in drought affected areas."

Oxfam International is responding to the food crisis in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia by targeting food distribution, water and livelihoods support at over 500,000 affected people.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Douglas Keatinge, Oxfam Regional Media Officer for the Horn, East-, and Central-Africa (HECA),
on + 254 (0) 733 632 810 or + 254 (0) 20 282 0136