Fr. David Conway is a Spiritan Father who has worked in the East Pokot, Kenya, for many years and has helped develop many projects in the region with the support of the willow Wheelers. The following is an update email sent by Fr. Conway to Christy McDaid on 30 May, 2017:
Greetings and good wishes from East Pokot. It is hot and dry here at the moment. The drought and famine continues as the rains have been disappointing.
The plight of the pastoralist, semi-nomadic Pokot who live in this hostile area continues to be ravaged by drought and famine. I write outlining the current situation of drought & famine in the sub-county of East Pokot, (Tiaty Constituency).
The situation of drought and famine has deteriorated in spite of donors and people of good will, who have responded generously to appeals for assistance in this Humanitarian Crisis.
East Pokot is regularly prone to drought and famine, most people are illiterate, this adds to the difficulties when it comes to development and addressing basic needs. The infrastructure is very poor, the climate is harsh and the mortality rate is high. Water borne diseases are common.
The Pokot people are experiencing one of the worst droughts in the living memory. A few short showers with no real significance have come and dried up immediately, partly due to the ground temperature.
It has not rained with any significance since October 2016. According to the National Drought Management Authority, (NDMA) People are experiencing real hardship and severe hunger, many have had to resort the eating their animals that have died in this drought. As documented in NDMA report (Early Drought Warning Bulletin) the larger East Pokot is in drought conditions since June 2016.
The near depleted Pokot economy due to the current situation of drought, famine and insecurity may take years to recover. The pastoralist Pokot have a huge reduction in their animal numbers. The elderly and the young children are the most vulnerable; they have been left behind as the youth have gone with the animals to search for pasture. This leaves the elderly and the children in a very vulnerable situation with diminishing resources.
One of the many effects of this severe drought that is been experienced at the moment is a problem of huge shortage in water.
Rivers are seasonal, river beds are dry. Animals were able to drink from these beds in times of rain.
East Pokot has experienced months with few erratic showers. Water dams and pans are drying at a rapid rate partly due to a very high evaporation rate.
The community and their animals are sharing the same water sources.
This will lead to disease and outbreaks of Cholera among other water born disease epidemics. People have stopped eating dead meat as it is causing diarrhea and other stomach problems. This dead meat requires to be boiled for hours, instead people are eating half boiled meat due to lack of water to cook for the required period.
Due to lack of rain leading to insufficient water charge of would-be water resources, people are suffering with no water only dirty contaminated water. At the Kolloa, Nginyang and Tangulbei markets Pokot Farmers are now selling their emaciated livestock at throwaway prices to down country traders.
With very high daily temperatures (C+ 45) and no rains since October
2016 there is a huge problem with severe drought resulting in scarcity of food and water for people and their animals. Barpello Catholic Mission are involved in assisting to draw water using the tractor and
6000 liter Water Bowzer to bring water to some primary/nursery schools. The mission was informed that primary schools are in the process of closing due to scarcity of water, or no water. Unlike past years of drought the scarcity of water has become a major issue.
One of the biggest problems is the high rate of illiteracy in East Pokot. Because of this illiteracy major problems are experienced in implementing & administrating livelihood and basic needs humanitarian projects.
Gender disparity in educational matters is in favor of men. For example, 90% of men have no formal education in East Pokot compared to 96% of women. Going to secondary school are approximately 2% of women and 7% of men.
Last week we thought that the rains had come at last! It is reported that other areas in Kenya are suffering from flooding. Not so for East Pokot. We has about three to four days when temperatures became cooler with erratic showers, the showers were short lived, heavy at times but only for minutes. After these showers it is back to high climatic daily temperatures.
For most Pokot Communities they have lost all their animals due to this prolonged drought. Most cattle/cows have died, goats and camels are suffering from stress with zero milk production.
For the Pokot they have lost their income. Animals are no longer, people are suffering even resulting in death and disease.
Food is very scarce and very expensive through out Kenya but mainly felt in areas of and like East Pokot and among the poor. People cannot afford to buy a kilo of sugar and have a child with malaria the same day.
Access to food is hindered by insecurity. Food being brought into East Pokot has been limited due to access roads being closed, lorries with food turned around and even looted.
Education is in a very fragile and volatile situation. For High Schools like Barpello parents are not able to pay modest fees needed to pay staff and administrate the school. Food has become very expensive. The reality of education in East Pokot is in real jeopardy.
Primary schools are slow to open for this the second term. There is no food and little or no water. There is a huge drop-out rate among students in all primary schools. Teachers are few, as most of the teachers come from outside of East Pokot. They have not returned to their school because of insecurity.
East Pokot has been marginalized by successive Governments, East Pokot has been left behind when the rest of Kenya was being developed. The infrastructure of roads and communication is very poor and deteriorating. Barpello still has no public transport mainly due to poor road infrastructure. Communication is poor, with net work for mobile phones nonexistent in many parts.
East Pokot is classed as a hardship area with many challenges affecting its people. The alleviation of poverty and the provision of basic need development is still a priority of the mission to the Pokot.
Negative issues include, poverty, high illiteracy, insecurity and retrogressive cultural practices that hinder the people from developing. The church believes that education and evangelization is a long term tool to positive development. According to the Uwezo Report findings (2013) East Pokot has the lowest literacy and numeracy rates in East Africa.
There is need to assist the children of East Pokot so that they can be able to move to the next level of education. From this, livelihoods will be improved through education and young people from East Pokot will be exposed to quality education. It is also expected that they will also be agents of evangelization and peaceful co existence to their neighbors.
Acknowledgement of support:
I wish to acknowledge with sincere gratitude your constant and continuous support for Barpello High School and indeed for the mission activities in East Pokot. Again you have supported us with Euro 10,000, 9,000 for BHS and 1,000 for Famine relief.
God bless you and all.