On January 3, Barako Elema Abudho, 69, of Galas Village in North Horr, Marsabit County, breathed his last.
The cause of his death? Starvation.
For weeks, he went without food, only surviving on a few millilitres of water a day and the occasional sip of tea or milk that his neighbours could afford to spare on a good day.
Willing and generous as they are, residents of Galas village, some 800km from Nairobi, could not afford to get enough food to keep the elderly man alive while also sustaining their own families.
Some 150km further north in Ileret location, Aigus Nyemeto, is preparing to put her eight children to sleep. This is the fourth day her family will go to bed hungry.
She is four months pregnant and her children are aged between one and 16. Signs of malnutrition are already beginning to show on the frail bodies of the young ones, who hurdle in one corner of the manyatta they call home as they prepare for another long night with empty stomachs.
Learned not to complain
The older children have learned not to complain much about the lack of food in the house, which is evident in the cold ashy fireplace and empty pots strewn across what is supposed to be the family kitchen.
No food has been cooked in this house for days.
For the younger ones, however, it is going to be yet another excruciating night and their cries as they clutch onto their empty bellies tell it all.
Even with the language barrier, the pain of a mother having to watch and listen to her children cry themselves to sleep for the fourth consecutive night does not need translation.
But that is all Ms Nyemeto can do - watch her babies sleep hungry. Her husband no longer comes home after they lost their 360 animals to the biting drought.
“My husband does not come home anymore since our livestock died. He feels he has nothing left to offer,” she says.
The few frail animals that the family owned have over the past one month died of starvation, leaving the pregnant mother and her eight children with no source of income.
Hoping for a miracle
At this point, she is only hoping for a miracle, divine intervention and physical food aid all in one package, or whichever arrives first.
Another 100km to the northwest, at Manguto in Horri Guda, 90-year-old Duba Kanchoro is hanging on to life by a thread.
He has survived on water and tea for days but the lack of nutritious foods is slowly killing him. A cow’s hide spread on top of the rocky desert grounds outside his manyatta is his bed.
He spends his days lying on the hide waiting for food aid or death, whichever comes first.
He can barely sit up and the level of malnourishment that has hit him cannot allow him to eat solid foods at the moment. He can only take milk and even that is almost impossible to find.
After not receiving rain for over two years, starvation is the devastating reality hundreds of thousands are facing.
The scorching sun has vaporised the life out of these lands, turning them into rocky barren wastelands stretching thousands of kilometres.
To get water, locals must walk hundreds of kilometres daily and some have given up already.
Dropped out of school
Thousands of children have dropped out of school, with nothing to eat at home and at school.
Livestock deaths are in the hundreds of thousands and rising every minute.
In Marsabit alone, at least 160,000 households face hunger, with the number expected to rise to over 200,000 in the coming weeks.
Yet still, government intervention is nowhere to be seen.
This is despite President Uhuru Kenyatta declaring drought a national disaster on September 8, 2021.
Five months later, communities living in the northern region are yet to receive any form of government aid and have been surviving on aid from locally based non-governmental organisations.
Even then, the intervention is nowhere close to enough and the organisations are running out of resources, spelling further doom for Kenyans in the northern frontier.
“We are in the red zone. This is the worst drought we have experienced in decades and we have already received reports of one death and tens of people collapsing due to hunger,” Pastoralist Community Initiative and Development Assistance (Pacida) Director Wario Guyo said.
“We have not seen much intervention except from local NGOs but that is not enough.”
NGOs that have been providing food aid and water trucking to some of the areas are now making an appeal for emergency intervention.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) last week also donated food items worth Sh500,000 and 2,000 bales of hay to residents of Galas in North Horr.
The most affected areas are Laisamis and North Horr sub-counties, where many households have been rendered vulnerable by the drought.
In Laisamis and Loglogo wards alone, over 10,000 people are in dire need of aid. While 6,000 residents of Laisamis are affected, at least 4,000 in Loglogo face starvation.
“The number of those facing starvation is expected to shoot to over 200,000 in 2022. The situation is worsening by the day and mitigation measures should be undertaken without delay,” Marsabit National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) Coordinator Henry Mustafa reported.
Marsabit is the largest county, covering 70,962 square kilometres, and is home to mostly pastoral communities who depend on livestock as their primary source of income.
The animals provide meat but the most important product is milk, especially for women and children.
However, after two years of no rain, pastures and water have been scarce, leading to deaths of livestock in hundreds of thousands.
Mr Godana Boru, of Horri Guda village in North Horr, has lost over one hundred of his herd in the past two months. The few emaciated cows he has left have nothing to feed on.
His last resort is to feed paper cartons to the animals. The cartons have no nutritional value but at least they give them some curd to chew on as they lie in the scorching heat.
“There is no pasture and I saw the cows eat paper cartons, so I opted to feed the animals with them. The cartons do not help much but hopefully it will slow down their death until help comes,” Mr Boru said.
Now the emaciated animals can barely produce enough milk for the households.
Locals have been losing hundreds of animals daily. Carcasses are strewn all over the desolate land, proof of the living hell that has become North Horr.
The stench of rotting animals is too much to bear but this is normal for locals. Some opt to burn the carcasses.
The prevalence of livestock diseases makes it hazardous to slaughter the livestock for meat.
For some, there are no animals left all together.
Locals now feel they have been abandoned by the very government they put in power and have been left to starve.
“All our animals have died and now we will be next. If no help comes soon, people will die,” Mr Aike Nyeruma told the Nation.
Leaders focused on campaigns
As drought and famine bites, leaders, seemingly focused on campaigns and political deals, appear to have abandoned their people.
In September, the government set aside Sh2 billion for emergency response to drought but the aid is yet to reach the intended target.
“The President announced the release of Sh2 billion last year but we have not seen the money yet. Lives are at stake and we are appealing to the government to step in urgently,” Marsabit County Governor Mohamud Ali said at the launch of food aid distribution last week.
The county government last week distributed food worth Sh200 million to some of the most vulnerable households.
The situation has been exacerbated by the recent spate of tribal clashes that have restricted the movement of pastoral communities in search of pasture and water.