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Red Cross provides sustainable water sources for drought-affected Kenyans

Approximately 100 km from Dadaab camp, where thousands of Somali refugees arrive after crossing the border in desperation, there is another story to be told. It is a story of success; one about pastoralists who have adapted their livelihoods in order to survive periods of drought – such as the one the Horn of Africa is presently facing – and it works.

In 1997 there was a period of drought similar to the one today. Disease wiped out livestock for a significant number of pastoralists, leaving them without a steady source of income or food.

Without many alternatives, a group of pastoralists turned to farming. With the support of the Ministry of Agriculture and later, the Kenya Red Cross and Government of Japan, the farmers have now created a 3,300 acre farm that serves nearly 2,000 people.

The Kenya Red Cross helped these farmers expand their crop by providing tractor services to cultivate the land, thousands of seedlings, training on modern farming techniques and an irrigation system. The Kenya Red Cross provides medical outreach programs, hygiene promotion messaging and disaster risk reduction techniques to manage seasonal floods.

“Donated food is not the only answer,” explained Mahmoud Adhan, one of the farm’s chairmen. “Pastoralists also want the infrastructure and support so we can feed ourselves.”

While emergency relief is undoubtedly necessary for the immediate needs of those affected by the current drought, Mahmoud’s testimony underlines the value of investing in long-term programs that provide sustainable solutions for vulnerable populations.

Outside of the farm, the land is sandy and dry. Camels saunter through the bush. Down the road, there are large groups of people collected at various water points with yellow plastic containers, and heaps of charcoal are being sold illegally. People are trying to find any way to survive.

Yet these former pastoralists are flourishing among banana trees, papaya, crops of tomatoes and kale. Their irrigation system is sourced by the Tana River nearby, surprisingly hidden amongst the surrounding desert landscape. It is reminiscent of an oasis, and these farmers are extremely proud of their achievements.

American Red Cross Support

With 2011 classified as the driest year on record in the eastern Horn of Africa, the health, livelihoods and food security of millions of Somalis, Ethiopians, Djiboutians and Kenyans are at serious risk.

The American Red Cross announced on July 28 an initial pledge of $1 million for the evolving humanitarian crisis in eastern Africa, continuing its history of support to the region.

“With my life as a farmer, I can send my children to school, and we do not go hungry during period of drought as we have today,” stated Aden Shekh, member of the farm. “Now, there is life,” he said as he smiled, and handed me a large papaya.