In a Dry and Weary Land: The need for innovative solutions where there is no water
The Horn of Africa drought crisis is threatening lives and stealing hope in Samburu, Kenya. World Concern staff members Joseph Muigai and Faith Nasieku talk about the need for innovative solutions.
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What do you do when there is no water and most of the community you’re trying to help packs up and migrates, leaving behind those who are too old or weak to walk? This is just one of the challenges the World Concern program team in Samburu, Kenya, are facing amidst a complex crisis like drought. Joseph Muigai and Faith Nasieku share how the need for innovative, long-term solutions—and prayer—are needed to help families survive.
In a Dry and Weary Land: The need for innovative solutions where there is no water
Cathy: Welcome to the End of the Road Podcast. My name is Cathy and I'm your host and tour guide as we journey together to some of the most remote, challenging places on the planet. I'm so excited to have you along for the ride. So buckle up, we're going to the end of the road.
I'm joined today by two of my colleagues in Samburu, Kenya, Joseph Muigai, who is a project officer with World Concern, and Faith Nasieku, who is a project assistant with World Concern. And they are both based in a part of Northeastern Kenya that is experiencing a very severe drought right now. As some of you may have heard, the horn of Africa, including parts of Somalia and Kenya and Ethiopia, are experiencing drought right now that is really impacting people's lives. And so I wanted to invite them on the podcast today to just help us understand a little bit about what people are experiencing in that part of the world and how it's affecting people's lives. And so welcome Joseph and Faith. Thank you for joining us today.
Joseph: Thank you, Cathy.
Faith: Thank you, Cathy.
Cathy: So, Joseph, let's start with you. Describe the environment there in Samburu. What does it look like outside? If someone were to step outside and look around at the environment, what would they see?
Joseph: As you step outside, you can see dry trees. There is no grass, very dusty, and some few goats here and there.
Cathy: A few goats here and there. Would you say there are fewer goats than normal? Are there usually a lot of animals around?
Joseph: That's true. There are few compared to during the rains.
Cathy: Okay. All right. How long has it been since it has rained there in Samburu?
Joseph: I think the last rain that we received, though was not much, is back in the year 2020.
Cathy: Wow. Okay. So it's been two years since there's been any significant rainfall there.
Cathy: So Faith, you have been there in Samburu working and serving for several years. I had the privilege of visiting that area in 2019, and it was a challenging place at that time. But from your perspective, having been there for several years, how have things changed there?
Faith: A lot has changed since 2019, where we have, in terms of development, we have improved modern... We have modern houses, we have business centers, more shops. But when it comes to environment, I can say that we are having persistent dry weather conditions, experiencing occasional showers. The rainfall pattern has changed. Before we use at least to receive the adequate amount of rainfall. But with time as years goes, we are experiencing short rains to none. We have dusty roads. We have dry wells. So in terms of environment, we've been really affected with the climatic change. That is what I can see.
Cathy: Yeah. It's exciting to hear that development is taking place, that if I were to come back there now that I would see more homes and businesses operating. And so that's great news and congratulations to your part, that World Concern has had in this. It's also heartbreaking to hear that there has been such an impact from drought. So Joseph, from your perspective, how is the drought affecting people's lives, their livelihoods? What do you see in terms of how this drought is changing life for the Samburu people?
Joseph: I understand that we all know that Samburu are pastoralists and they depend on livestock, and therefore they need pastures. With this kind of drought we have no grasses, and to this has affected livestock and quite number of cows. They're dead right now as we talk. The remaining goats and some sheep, they're emaciated, and this means that they can sell it at a good price as compared to when we have rains. So as what I can see is that the main livelihood for these people, which is livestock keeping, has been affected so much. As well, also, most of the households have migrated in search of pastures and water. So generally we can see that livestock death rate has been increasing so far, and most of the households have lost their livestock.
Cathy: So if people are migrating, is that impacting the work that World Concern is doing there? If people are not in their villages, in their homes where you're trying to work with the community and working on development, have things kind of come to a halt there?
Joseph: Yeah, though we have some few activities that have not been affected, but a majority of the activities have been affected. For example, we've been having saving groups for women and youth, and they have been depending from a sale of livestock and now they can't sell their livestock because they're just few, and seems that like our saving groups, some of them, they have even stopped saving. And with a few remaining, they have reduced their savings because they don't have money and they have even borrowed to their limit, and the borrowing, they are using them to buy foods.
So they have already exhausted their borrowing just to buy foods for their family. When you talk about some activities like training leaders, some of these community leaders, they have taken their livestock to far away, around 150 kilometers from here so we can no longer train them. So what we can only find in the villages are women and elderly people and also children. So those are the only people that we can find in the village. And even to some extent, you may just want to visit one of your beneficiary in the field only to realize, to be told that they have already migrated and you had already started some training with them. So it's really painful to, as a concern staff, to see that some of the activities are stopping due to this drought.
Cathy: Yeah. It sounds like it's very disruptive to the process. And we've talked about that a little bit on the podcast before, that the way that World Concern works is by really establishing relationships with the community members, with the leaders in the community, empowering them to make changes in their own community. And so if those leaders have had to migrate with their animals out of the community, if most of the men are gone and it's just the women and children that are left, it sounds like that's very disruptive to the process of development that World Concern is known for.
Joseph: Yeah. True.
Cathy: So Faith, from your perspective, I know that you've done a lot of work in nutrition and health with the communities there in Samburu. I remember seeing lots of pictures of you out at health events that you held, and you're measuring children's arms to detect the level of malnutrition in the children there. What are you seeing in terms of how this drought is affecting children, women, families, from a health and a nutrition perspective, how are they doing?
Faith: In terms of health and nutrition with the ongoing drought, most of the... As Joseph has said, the main source of livelihood is livestock. So the livestock that they used to rely in terms of household food, the security is no longer there. So you find that the milk consumption has really remained low because you find that the goats or the cattle that the household was depending on has migrated. So the children are no longer getting the milk. And also drought has resulted to high inadequate access of food in their markets. And you find that now that the livestock are not there, the marketplace is not as good. So you find that when they go and sell and the emaciated cattle, they get small amount of money, meaning they cannot access other food, the other staple food. So they depend on only the little food that they get.
So I can say that even the milk... The amount of meals that they take by day has reduced. The amount of the portion size that they can get is too little. And also the meal frequency has reduced to one. You find that they only get, let's say, breakfast or maybe supper. So that has really affected the insurance status of children in that, from the latest survey that was being conducted to determine the number of children that are risk, it has really increased from 16% to 21%, meaning that the rate of malnutrition keeps on increasing with the ongoing drought. And also in terms of water, there is no clean and safe water. There's no rain, meaning that the women have to hand dig the shallow wells or the riverbeds to get the little amount of water, which is not clean.
So you find that diseases such as diarrhea, children under the age of five years and are being diagnosed with diarrhea and other respiratory diseases. So I can say that the drought has really affected... Women now walk more kilometers than they used to walk to get the little amount of water. So you find that they have no even time to care of their kids, or even to prepare the little meals that they get. They walk tens and tens of kilometers to get the little meal. By the time they're back, the children can only get one meal per day.
Cathy: Wow. That is heartbreaking to imagine children who are supposed to be growing only having one meal a day. We know that this affects not only their bodies, but their brain development, their ability to grow healthy and strong, so that's a real challenge. And you mentioned the women walking for water, the lack of availability of clean and safe water. I remember when I was there, we walked maybe about five kilometers with a mother who was going to collect water for the day and arrived at a fairly dry riverbed and watched her go through this painstaking process of digging down into the soil, into the sand for quite a while, and then just scooping out small cups full of water that was very brown and murky, and pouring that into her water container to carry that all the way back home. And it was such a painstaking process.
And so to think now that those same women are walking even further than they walked before, and probably not finding any water, maybe having to dig much further down, we've seen some pictures that your team have sent of large holes in the ground. People climbing down in there to dig further, to try to find and access water. So now, Faith, when you're seeing children and how the malnutrition levels are increasing... I think you said the levels went from 16% of the children being malnourished to some degree to now 31%. Is that right?
Cathy: Okay. So almost double the amount of children are now showing signs of malnutrition. And so when you see these things happening for the mothers, for the children, knowing that their day is consumed with searching for water and food, how does that make you feel? Faith, we'll start with you. And then Joseph, I'd love to hear from you as well. Do you ever get hopeless? How do you feel when you see this happening to families there?
Faith: It's so heartbreaking because sometimes you even want to help using your own resources, but it's not sustainable, or it is not enough. You can help them one day, but what happens the next day? So it's so sad. And also to add, the drought has resulted to even people not, the women especially, not accessing the health services now that they have moved in search of water and pasture, together with the livestock, you find that where they move, there's no health facilities, and they have these kids that are below the age of five that needs to be vaccinated. They need to go through the routine immunization, growth monitoring. So they're in hard to reach areas. And sometimes you find that most of them, with being at risk of malnutrition, they cannot walk to the nearby health facilities even more than sometimes even 20 kilometers to access these services.
So you find that the condition is deteriorating in where they have migrated. And by the time they come to the nearest health facility, or it happens, maybe World Concern, the way they do the health, they support the health, the mobile clinics. You find that when we go there, the child condition has really worsened. They have defaulted from... Maybe some of them, after being identified with malnutrition, they were being enrolled in a program, in a nutrition supplementary program. But when they have migrated, you see that they no longer come to... They no longer follow up on the health services. So by the time we reach them, their condition has really deteriorated. So it's so sad. They're so sad. And when we tell them we want to come for those health to visit the health facility, they tell us when we look for water and food, and again, come back to... And again, walk for another 10 kilometer to access the health services. So they rather look for food and water first than when they get another day, another chance they now go to look for the health services. So sometimes it's very heartbreaking.
Cathy: Yeah. Wow. So, yeah. When you're thinking about basic survival, are you going to spend your day walking, searching for food and water, or are you going to spend your entire day taking your child to the health clinic, knowing that they might get some of the help that they need there, but you've got other children, other family members and yourself that you've got to try to feed and provide for, so that it really creates a dilemma for mothers and families there and what their priorities are.
And so Joseph, what about from your perspective? You are leading the team there in Samburu. You guys are working so hard. You've been working so hard, making such great progress. We've been so excited to see the completion of the rock water catchment systems, and all the exciting things are happening there. But some of those things are fairly fruitless if it's not raining. You need rain there to fill up those tanks. And the kitchen gardens that you've been helping the women plant and grow also need water in order to grow. So from your perspective, how do you feel personally when you see the impact of this drought? Do you feel like you ever lose hope or what gives you hope to keep going each day?
Joseph: Yeah. It's so challenging, especially for our staff and myself. It's a sad situation. When you go to the village to serve the community and all what you can see is children are hungry. They all run towards you seeking for food assistance. And here you are, you're not in a position even to satisfy them with your own resources. Are desperate situation for the community, especially for the elderly people. They're very weak. To some extent, some, they cannot even stand on their feet. And there you are in the village and people are looking at you, what World Concern will do?
You don't have food for them. You can't train them. They're hungry. So sometimes it's so sad and you feel a bit challenged, sometimes you are low. You just come back and have a moment of prayer and ask God. It's so sad. These are people that you've been with them for quite some time. And now they didn't eat food and you don't have food. And even sometimes you feel like, "Should I go to the field and see the people that I saw last yesterday? What should I give them?" Sometimes it's just so challenging, but we thank God we are here. And I believe that we are here for a reason and a purpose. And as long as we are here, we are yet to accomplish the mission. And some of this situation, maybe God is taking us through so that he can manifest himself in the near future.
Cathy: I love that. Amen to that. We are grateful that you are there. Always want you to know that we're praying for you. We pray for the team there continuously at headquarters, but we also ask the listeners of this podcast, our supporters, our church partners, all of the people involved that make World Concern function, we ask them to pray as well. So know that you're being covered in prayer, and so are the people there in Samburu. And it's hard to listen to how this affects you and your team. We know that you guys are serving tirelessly that you're pouring your hearts out. It's a real struggle to know what to do, what can be done. And sometimes there isn't anything except to pray. And so you mentioned visiting people in the field. And I remember a particular, very young mother that we met when I was there.
She was maybe 15 years old and she had a baby, and she was coming back from walking by herself. Her husband was somewhere else taking care of the animals. And she had walked a long distance and it was now getting to be afternoon time. And we asked her if she had eaten yet that day. And she said, no, that she might eat a meal later in the day, but it would be very small, if anything. I just felt like she was so alone out there. And it gave me such comfort to be able to ask your team, "You guys will be here for her, right?" And everybody said, "Yes, we'll continue to check on her." But I think about that young mother now three years later. I don't know, did she survive? Did her baby survive? Are they okay? Have they migrated somewhere else? And so it's really difficult. Are there any families that you've met? Or Faith, is there a particular mother, or child, or family that you've met that has really touched your heart, that when you think of praying for people, you think of that particular family?
Faith: Okay, Cathy, there's this family in a certain village where we serve as World Concern. It's a family of four, a female headed house with four kids. And three of them, they have been enrolled into the nutrition program because of malnutrition. And this is because of the drought. The mother depends on a small business that she runs in the nearby livestock market that they normally have weekly. But now with ongoing drought... At that time, the market was actually closed. So she has nowhere to go to do... She has no place to go and look for food for her kids. So at the beginning of this year, the three kids were really, their country was really worsening. And the nurse in charge in nearby health facility was really complaining that these kids have remained in the program for more than three years since they began the medical outreach. They have been there year in year out.
They're not improving. There's no change. So we decided to visit their house and to see what is the problem. And it was so sad because the nutrition commodities that they were being given, the supplements that they were being given to the three kids to help them improve their condition, is what the entire family was using for the main meal. So it was so sad. And we asked the lady, "Why don't you make even porridge for the kid?" And then they say, "We actually thank God that you give us this peanut based product, because that is the only thing that we take." And it was so sad because we now knew that now the reason why the kids were not improving because they were taking this supplements, they were sharing the entire family.
And it is not only that family, even the neighbors, they actually come to borrow the small... The little nutrition commodity they have been given. If it is the porridge, they share in the entire neighborhood. And you can imagine the portion it's very little. So it's so sad, but we thank God that even through that, through World Concern, it supporting the medical outreach, they see that as a door for them to get food, which actually is not food, but medical or nutritional supplement that's supposed to help them. So we just pray that God will remember us with rain and that the land will flourish and people will get food.
Cathy: Wow, that's really incredible. So a few of the children in the family were receiving some nutritional supplements from World Concern. And then when you went to visit their home, you noticed that they were sharing that with the whole family and even with some of the neighbors. Now, was that the little packets of Plumpy'nut or was this a porridge or some kind of something... What was it that the supplements were?
Faith: Actually, the supplement was the ready-to-use supplement, the peanut based one, the small packet. So each child has been given 14 sachets a week to use. So you find that even before the seven days or the weekends, they're already finished. So it's the small packets that they shared with the rest of the family members and even neighbors.
Cathy: So we'll show a picture of one of these little packets on the Instagram page for the podcast, but it's just a tiny little packet with a peanut butter paste in it that has added nutrients, and vitamins, and minerals, and things, that help restore the children to health when they're malnourished. But they're intended for a young child to consume the packet by themselves. And so I would say for our listeners, it might be a half a cup worth of a peanut butter paste, maybe even a little bit less than that. So if you imagine dividing that up between four, or five, or six family members, plus neighbors, people are just getting just a tiny bite for themselves and that's all that this family had to survive on. And so, wow, that's really difficult and really heartbreaking to hear.
Speaker: We want to thank our listeners for joining us at The End of the Road. And we hope you're enjoying hearing the incredible stories of what God is doing in the world's most remote, challenging places. We also want to invite you to prayerfully consider taking the next step and getting involved. You can support the life changing work of World Concern and help reach more people with God's love and meet critical needs by making a donation at worldconcern.org slash road that's world concern.org slash road. Your support is critical to keeping this ministry going and growing. So thank you. And now let's get back to our conversation.
Cathy: So Joseph, are there any solutions? When your team meets and talks about this crisis, when you partner with other organizations, when you think about the big picture here, what can be done to help in a place that's so impacted by a drought crisis like this?
Joseph: Yeah, sure. I believe, and we've been discussing with other partners and my colleagues here, we have a short term and long solution. As we talk right now, we can only focus on short term. How are people going to get instant food for them to survive before we get the rain? However, it has been a cycle, drought cycle, especially for this part of Kenya. And it's high time now we think of sustainable solution for the community because World Concern will not be here forever, or other partners. But Samburu has been blessed with many season rivers. This seasons during the rain season, we have a lot of water flowing down and going into waste. There are some of the structures that we can put that can help on tapping that run of water. And especially, we are talking over those sand dams. That is just building a concrete wall across a season river, where we can have a huge deposit of sand that can store water.
And probably that water can be tapped through a shallow well or through a borehole using green energy. And with this kind a borehole, or shallow well, we can have kitchen gardens. If we can have many kitchen garden, at least they can help those vulnerable families, especially children, women, and pregnant women during the drought season, that maybe they can be getting some vegetables. However, also, we've seen a situation whereby most of the trees have been cleared. People banning charcoal, just one income, and probably it's item that we think of now rehabilitating the environment through planting of drought resistant trees, and more so, trees that can be consumed by livestocks, such that if we have such trees, then they can also be used as livestock feed. So indeed, and also tapping, also run of water from the big rocks that are in Samburu. We have plenty of big rocks that they have a great surface area.
And when we have rains that run of good waste, if we can have many rock catchment structures like the one we've done, this at least can help on, and maybe probably help on solving some of this problem that occur on a yearly basis. So if, what I can say, we can focus on water harvesting and conservation, environment rehabilitation through tree planting, and also check on livestock. Most of this community, they have the indigenous livestock. They're not adapt adaptive to the climatic change. If now we can help the community and work together, the community and other partners, that we get the hybrids of maybe goats, cattle and sheep, that they can... It's a bit of drought resistance with high milk production. This can help or to solve some of these issues. Yeah.
Cathy: Excellent. So you really have to be doing these two things simultaneously. Looking at the short term needs and keeping people alive right now, and at the same time you have to be working on these long term solutions, as well, so that when the rain does come, you're ready to maximize the rain and collect it and help people with some of these other activities that will sustain them long term, so that we know that with the climate changing and with an area like Samburu that's prone to droughts, that this is going to happen again. And so the question is how can we help people be better prepared for the drought returns again? And so just to kind of explain for the listeners a little bit, you mentioned some really interesting things that I want to sort of help people understand. When it rains in Samburu, it can rain really hard for a short period of time.
And so you were saying that sometimes that water is wasted because it just goes down river and it's gone. And so you're focusing on trying to capture that with something called the sand dam, which is, as you mentioned, just a concrete wall that will stop that water flow and collect it into a pond or a small reservoir where then that water can be tapped and cleaned and used for people, for animals, for growing gardens and vegetables, and things like that, which is really exciting. And then I'm fascinated with the rock water catchment systems, because it utilizes a part of the natural landscape there, which are these huge rocks. If people can kind of imagine just a giant boulder, that when it rains, the surface directs the water down off the rock. Then what you guys have done is created these collection tanks. So that rainwater then is channeled into a tank, and that can be tapped again so that people can utilize the water there.
They're really innovative solutions using the natural landscape and the natural resources that are there in the area, and it's really exciting to see. Here in the US, there are places that are out in the desert. I think of places like Arizona right now, where they're having some seasonal monsoon rains. It's normally very dry there, but then the rain comes through, and there's thunderstorms and it rains really hard for a short period of time. So just for the listeners to make a comparison like that, that's what it does. And that's what we're praying for Samburu, that those seasonal rains would come, and that they would be sufficient in order for you to collect that water. And then you can begin to work on moving forward on those long term solutions. So when is the next rainy season supposed to happen? When do you hope and pray and expect that it will rain again there?
Joseph: We're expecting to have the next rainy season from November, December there. We are hoping and very much optimistic that we have rains. However, if it doesn't rain, it's going to be very, very, very tough.
Cathy: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Well, we will be praying for that for sure. In addition to praying for rain, is there anything that either one of you... Faith, maybe we'll start with you. If you could ask people around the world that might be listening to this to pray for Samburu, what would you ask them to pray for?
Faith: Okay, Cathy, just before I mentioned the prayer items, also one of the solution is to intensify the medical outreach. It has really helped during the drought season, and we are praying that moving forward, we will support... We'll work together with the minister of health and intensify the medical outreach in areas where the people have migrated during the dry season. This will really help, even if it's short term. It will really help in terms of helping, especially the young children, to access the health services and also reduce mortality rate, the death rates so that we can have a future. And also as World Concern, we have been creating awareness in terms of diversify livelihoods.
So we are telling the people that instead of relying on the livestock, we, through savings groups, we teach them about the bead making so that they cannot rely only on their livestock, but their [inaudible 00:39:14], they can look for other ways of bringing the food to the table. So for the prayer items, we really pray that we will have peace. When the drought is there, there's no food, meaning there's conflicts in terms of people moving to the nearby counties in search of pasture. And most of the time, it doesn't end well. People are fighting because of the few resources. So we pray for peace even within our borders. And we pray that even God will continue to give World Concern more partners, and more resources, funding so that we can be able to serve the communities around here and give them hope.
Cathy: Wow. Well thank you for mentioning some of those other short term solutions that are really, really important, really critical to helping people survive the current crisis. And then really good things to be praying for as well for that area. So the need for more health outreaches, giving people... Meeting those critical immediate needs as well. So thank you for that. Joseph, how can we be praying for the team there? Is there anything specific for you and your team to pray for you guys as you continue to work to find solutions and to help people there?
Joseph: Yeah, sure, Cathy. Please pray for our staff, staff morale. Sometimes we are so much discouraged seeing our community suffering, so pray that God will keep encouraging us, and God will keep giving us more wisdom, even how to encourage our community during this drought season. However, also, we've been reaching out to many partners that they're willing me probably to support with the emergency response. Let's keep that in prayer that also God will touch them and they are going to extend their blessings to our community in Samburu.
Cathy: Wonderful. That's great. We'll definitely ask the listeners to be praying for those things. So thank you both again for your service, for your hard work, for pouring your lives into the people of Samburu in helping them short-term and long-term to survive this drought and to be able to look ahead to the future and how their lives can be improved. And there's so many things that can be done. And so it's really just a matter of trying to get through this current crisis and then begin to move ahead with those long-term solutions. So thank you both for joining us today and being here with us and for all the hard work that you're doing. God bless you guys.
Joseph: Thank you. Thank you guys.
Faith: Thank you.
Cathy: I want to thank our listeners for joining us today. I hope your mind has been expanded and your heart has been touched by what God is doing around the world. If you like what you're hearing on The End of the Road, please give us a five star rating and review us on Apple Podcasts, or hit the bell symbol on Spotify to be notified when there's a new episode released. Stay in the know and never miss an episode by texting the word podcast to 34444. I want to thank Crista Ministries, World Concern's parent organization, for making this podcast possible. And I also want to thank Casey Helmick and the whole team at Terra Firma for their production and editing and consulting expertise, for helping us bring these stories to life and bring them to you. Thanks again for joining us today. We look forward to more stories at The End of the Road next time.