'Our camels are so weak, we have to help them stand up'

Kenya, October 4, 2011

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  • 'Our camels are so weak, we have to help them stand up'
  • cowwithboy.jpg
    Cow with boy just outside Dela. Photo: Bija Gutoff/Mercy Corps Photo: cowwithboy.jpg
  • watertruck.jpg
    Truck that brought today's water to Dela. Photo: Bija Gutoff/Mercy Corps Photo: watertruck.jpg
  • peopleinhut.jpg
    Chief Ibrahim is at left. Photo: Bija Gutoff/Mercy Corps Photo: peopleinhut.jpg
  • skinny_camel.jpg
    A skinny camel. Photo: Bija Gutoff/Mercy Corps Photo: skinny_camel.jpg

Chief Saladi Ibrahim shakes my hand and manages a smile. As we sit down in the hut, he pauses to gather his thoughts. He is clearly troubled. He’s been chief for 17 years, and his village of Dela, like the rest of Wajir County, is in a terrible time.

Dela is receiving emergency distributions of cash and trucked-in water from Mercy Corps. Today we delivered cash assistance of $30 each to 110 of the most desperately needy families, as well as 3,000 liters of water – two days’ supply for 700 families. Lacking a well or borehole to access water deep underground, Dela depends on a community water pan – a large shallow reservoir – to collect rainwater. Today the pan sits dry and empty.

“We really appreciate to get the cash and the water,” says Ibrahim. “This is helping us survive in this drought time. If we did not get this help, our people would be having an even rougher time.”

Looking around Dela, it is hard to conceive what “rougher” even means. Does it get rougher than this? The people who gradually gather in and around the hut during our conversation are quiet and composed. But their expressions are strained with worry.

Men and women alike are dressed in loose drapes of thin cloth, their limbs lean and bony. Sitting with their knees pulled up, they remind me of the long-legged birds we saw today, the ones that seem to pleat like accordions. There is no padding of any kind here.

“Our camels are so weak,” says Ibrahim, “we have to help them to stand up in the morning. We are sharing what food and water we have with our animals. But it is not enough for both humans and animals.”

“We used to use the animals to bring us water,” he explains. “When a donkey is strong, he can carry 40 liters of water. Now our donkeys are so weak, he cannot carry even one liter.”

“One of our women told me she took the rice she bought from the shop, and she boiled it, and when it was soft, she gave it to her donkey. There is no plant or grass here for the animals to eat. Everything in our life is our animals. So we are giving the donkeys and the goats some of the water you are bringing us. We are giving them some of our human food.”

Families are using their cash assistance to buy rice, oil, onions, salt, tea, milk powder and other necessities. Sometimes they have to spend their allotment to hire a driver to take a sick child or other family member to the clinic miles away.

Food is getting more expensive – and more people need help. “There are 10,000 people here,” says the chief. “And we have 110 families getting help. But there are 200 to 300 more families who need this help.”

I ask Chief Ibrahim what his people need most. He first takes time to acknowledge what they have already received. “We have been helped. You have helped us. For this water we have gotten, for the cash, we say thank you. Our community is saying thank you.”

He pauses again, then he says,, “We need more water. Especially for the animals. Our animals are dying. Our people need more help until the rainy time comes.”