East Africa Drought Crisis

by ActionAid International USA
Zainabu Kamato works on the field
Zainabu Kamato works on the field

“For all the people who gave their support to this project, I thank you" said Zainabu Kamato.

Zainabu Kamato, 45, is a member of a group of female farmers supported by ActionAid and Chairlady of the Relief Committee in Garba Tulla, Kenya. She shares her story and how ActionAid has helped support drought-affected communities in North Eastern Kenya, and uses mobile phone technology to establish two-way communication between ActionAid and the communities we are working with on the drought response.

“I am married and have six children. My husband is Abduallah, but he is sick. He has been suffering from a mental problem” said Zainabu. Heading the relief committee means that I am the main voice of the community when we make assessments to find out how much relief food each household needs. Most of us in the committee are women.

Zainabu helps manage the Food for Assets program in Garba Tulla, where community members work on farming and water harvesting structures in exchange for relief food. The aim is to build resilience to drought. 

We are building structures that hold the water, so we can farm with very little water. We have had one harvest where we harvested many vegetables. That eased the situation. The better we build these structures, the less rain we need. The phones are a big help when organizing workers for building the structures.”

“The phone also assists me in my communication with the entire community. I can now get updates from everybody with phones and also when relief food arrives.”

Zainabu’s ambition is to be able to pay her children’s school fees and to be able to put food on the plates of her family. I really want my children to be able to finish school and get jobs so they can travel out of this place - I don't feel that there are any prospects for them here. When we lost all of our animals I really felt that I had lost the power to control my life. We had to accept food from the government and I didn't like just living in this way - it made me feel dependent and bad. But now I work for the food I feel I have taken some control back into my life. "

Before I started working with this program, my children would often go hungry and not eat for a few days, but things are better now. I also like being able to work with other people in the field and feel that we are making our situation better.

Zainabu Kamato, 45
Zainabu Kamato, 45
Howu Dedu, 40
Howu Dedu, 40

Howu Dedu, 40, is part of the FFA program, fetching water from the water pan that has been built as part of the FFA (Female Farmers Association) project that is run by ActionAid as part of its drought relief program in Garba Tulla, Kenya in summer 2012. This region has experience recurring drought for over ten years, and many pastoralists have now lost their livelihoods as a result. ActionAid has been working on an agricultural and Water Pan project to provide alternative livelihoods to some the most vulnerable communities in the area.

“We only had enough food for one meal a day before . We eat mainly maize flower with some sauce - normally at lunchtime. If I need extra food or things from the shop I take it on credit and will then try and pay back later when I can get some money. said Dedu.

I only joined FFA a year ago after my husband died. We are given food as part of the project for the work we do. I sell some of the food to buy sugar and tea. My biggest fear is not being able to feed my children or send them to school. The price of everything has increased recently and it is making life much harder.

The government has given some relief too but this isn't reliable. During the drought last year they were giving maize and beans. They give no help with agriculture or with our animals. The Water Pan project is now the only hope I have for supporting my children. I think farming like this is the only future we can have here - there is no point to buy more animals as they will only die in another drought.

I feel happy with the Water Pan Project and we could start to sell vegetables in the future. I lost three children during the different droughts. They died because of malnutrition and became weak. I blamed myself for not being able to look after them properly. I felt helpless that I couldn't do anything for them. With FFA I feel that I have more stability and can at least guarantee food for my four remaining children each month."

ActionAid is an international anti-poverty agency working in 50 countries, taking sides with poor people to end poverty and injustice together. Together with more than 2,000 civil society partners worldwide, ActionAid works with and supports the poorest and most vulnerable people to fight for and gain their rights to food, shelter, work, basic healthcare and a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. View the website at www.actionaidusa.org.

Cecilia Mwangi
Cecilia Mwangi

Thank you for helping us assist people in East Africa to get back on their feet.

ActionAid, in partnership with the Government of Kenya and United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), introduced the Food for Asset (FFA) program. The program distributes food supplies to community members affected by the drought, who are not able to grow, or cannot afford, their own food. In exchange for staple foods, the community members work on projects that will build ‘assets’ and increase food security for their community. The FFA program has 28,760 beneficiaries in total and around one tenth of them, or 517 households, work at the Kambi Sheikh farm projects.

Cecilia Mwangi, 60 years old, lives in Kambi Sheikh, North Eastern, Isiolo, Kenya. Married, but husband has abandoned her. 6 children. She provides for one of her own children and 7 grandchildren.

“The climate has changed and it is not as easy to grow crops and vegetables as it used to be. Therefore, it is fantastic that ActionAid is supporting us with the Food For Assets project, where we are learning farming techniques that makes it possible for us to adapt to the dryer and harsher climate.” says Cecilia.

 “I work at the Food for Assets site 12 days a month. For me, the most important benefit is that I learn how to farm more effectively.”

“At the FFA site, I have learned how to dig trenches and how to use other techniques to maintain moist and fertile soil. Digging holes and filling them up with manure before we plant has been very successful. Before, I planted crops and they dried out on my own farm. Now I can grow crops even when the rain is not enough.”

“I managed to sow just before we got some rains 3 months ago. If it keeps improving, I believe that I will be able to cope without the relief food we receive at some point.”

“We are five different tribes at this site. We all work together, so this program also proves that we are all humans that can work together and laugh together. It doesn’t matter for us, which tribe we are coming from.”

“Borana, Somali, Turkana, Kikuyu and Meru are the tribes represented here. I can talk to everybody. Those who do not want peace are just thugs and they can come from any tribe. But they don’t belong in this site. That’s for sure.”

*Thank you so much for your support and please visit ActionAid USA website at www.actionaidusa.org to learn more about our work in East Africa and around the world.

Mary Kalhelan
Mary Kalhelan

The rivers are flowing and the grass is finally green in Kongelei, the pastoralist community in North Western Kenya. Here, I mostly meet women and children, as many men have left the villages in search for green pasture.

After a long dry spell, it started raining in October and the families are starting to rebuild their day-to-day life as it used to be. Fifty of the families have received goats from ActionAid. Many of the goats are now in the hands of women trying to make ends meet.

Meeting some of the women was a reminder, that it is a tremendous task for farmers in Eastern Africa to adapt to climate change, in the aftermath of yet another failure in Durban for the worlds Governments to commit to serious reductions in the CO2 emissions  

Women in Kongelai do not believe in binding agreements anyway. Many of their husbands have abandoned their families – whether because of ill fate or simply because they gave up providing for their families.   

“I was married, but my husband got AIDS and died. Now our four children are my responsibility.”

35 year-old Mary Kalhelan told me when I visited the area to see, if the recent rains have made life easier for the families.

 “The rain used to come regularly, but now it can stay away for many months, before we suddenly get too much.  Nothing is certain anymore,” she elaborated.

In December, some areas in North Western Kenya suddenly received so much rain, that the newly planted seeds were flushed off the fields.

The cradle of humankind is said to be somewhere in Africa. People have lived here for thousands of generations. However, the biggest concerns for Mary are no more than one generation old; manmade climate change and HIV did not exist when she was born.

For Mary, providing for her family has been a day-to-day struggle in recent months. With the five goats she received from ActionAid, she feels that her immediate worries have disappeared.

I received five goats from ActionAid that I now keep on a small piece of land. With five goats, I can get enough milk for my children and I. However, the big change will happen when we succeed in breeding more goats. That will change our life status.

Mary, who also works at a market, explains.

Every morning, she walks a couple of hours to buy vegetables for 100 shillings (0.8 EUR) from small farmers along a river. When I met her in a stall in a small town, she had sold half of them for 110 shillings.  

Mary has HIV but with four children, a market stall and five goats, that is not her biggest concern any more. When she realised she was HIV positive, she considered it a death sentence. Now it is just one of several concerns in the back of her head.

ActionAid has trained me in how to live a normal life with HIV. I and everybody else had many prejudices about HIV. Now I get my medicine every day and I feel much better

Overall, her life has improved vastly in recent months.

“When it was very dry, a lot of livestock died and there was not many crops on the farms. At that time, we were starving in our family and it was a good day if we got just one solid meal. These days it is a bad day, if we only get one solid meal. On top of that, the goat milk makes my children strong. Things have gotten way better,” she explains.

Five goats that made a difference
Five goats that made a difference
Abdullahi Omar. 37 years old
Abdullahi Omar. 37 years old

Through the generosity of you and many other supporters, ActionAid and our partners are responding to the drought crisis in East Africa that has affected over 12 million people. Working in communities in north and northeastern Kenya, we have already reached over 250,000 people with immediate relief through school-feeding programs, water trucking, food distribution to vulnerable individuals and families, rehabilitation of wells, and de-stock of livestock (buying livestock from pastoralists at a fair price and distributing the meat to the most food insecure households).

Due to ActionAid’s development work in Kenya for the past few decades and our existing relationships with the communities we work in, we have been able to provide immediate assistance to the people most affected by the drought in Kenya. ActionAid incorporates disaster risk reduction and preparedness measures into our ongoing development work, and in combination with our ability to respond quickly, these communities have been shielded from the far greater consequences of the drought that we are seeing in other parts of the Horn of Africa, especially Somalia.

ActionAid is also confronting the longer-term causes of the drought—the marginalization of pastoral communities and lack of investment in agriculture which have left people living in semi-arid or arid lands particularly vulnerable.

Our three-year response plan will further build the resilience of communities by supporting sustainable agriculture, natural resource management, and community led-preparedness activities. Thank you for helping us making a difference in the lives of millions.


37 year old Abdullahi Omar is a pastoralist farmer in Ijara, North Eastern Kenya. Abdullahi lives in Ruqa village, Ijara, an area where the majority of the pastoralist Somali population earn their livelihood and support their families with their livestock. Like many in the drought affected areas of Northern Kenya, Abdullahi has been affected by the drought. But where many have seen total loss of their crops and livestock, Abdullahi has managed to protect the majority of his livestock because he has access to a water pan constructed by ActionAid and partner Womankind. He has lost 20 goats and 6 cattle in this drought, but still has a heard of 46 goats, 70 cattle and 5 donkeys.


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Organization Information

ActionAid International USA

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.actionaidusa.org
Project Leader:
Amy Leichtman
Program Manager
Washington, DC United States

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