First Person

Drought in Kenya: memories of rain

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Tede Lokapelo holds a day's worth of food. Photo by Rankin
Tede Lokapelo holds a day's worth of food. Photo by Rankin

A severe food crisis and drought is now affecting millions of people in East Africa. Among the areas hit hardest is northern Kenya’s Turkana region, where many people are herders who depend on their animals—camels, cows, goats, and sheep—for both food and income.

In March 2011, the photographer Rankin visited Turkana to capture photos and stories of people affected by the ongoing crisis. In the excerpt below, Tede Lokapelo, 85, talks about the dramatic changes he has witnessed in his lifetime.

“We are poor because the season is always dry. Everything dies, every day, every day, every day. For me the world has changed for the worse. We are living with a lot of uncertainties—no water, no food.

“It used to rain even when the grass was still green. It was never dry like this. Now maybe it rains for a few minutes or a few hours, but the earth is too dry nothing can be absorbed. This kind of drizzly rain is useless. If you look at the ground it is not even wet. You can tell whether the rain will be good or bad by looking at those mountains. You see that kind of smoke or fog? That is a symbol of the dry season. That fog needs to clear before the big rain clouds can come, then the skies can open and it will rain like it used to for days. It used to rain so that floods and rivers appear. But that will not happen until that fog disappears.

“In this community there are people called rain makers. In the past, when we had a prolonged drought, all the men would go and see the rain maker. We would sit under a special tree in the mountains and pray for rain. But God seems to have become too far away, and these traditions don’t work anymore.

“Back then we had everything, even wild animals were everywhere. There were antelopes, ostriches, wild cats, even lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, everything. The last time I saw a lion it was 1971. By 1971 we could not see any animals here. The antelope remained around for a while but by 1988 the antelopes also started dying. The wild animals found no grass here, just dust. There was no shade for them. They began slowly dying of hunger. Those that could walk began walking away. They went to places where they could find shade and water.

“I miss those animals very much. The environment is not complete without them.

” [Today] I only have seven goats left. I used to have 200. … This drought has taught me a lesson. I have learned that it is too difficult to keep animals. Our strong dependence on livestock, our old way of life, has completely gone.”

Oxfam aims to reach 3 million people–1.3 million in Kenya, 700,000 in Ethiopia, and 500,000 in Somalia—with a variety of support, including food aid, clean water, and veterinary care for animals. We are drilling and repairing wells and distributing fuel vouchers to ensure that pumps on the wells can keep operating—even if people have no money. Find out how you can support our efforts. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+