Severe Drought Brings Starving Kenyans to Church Doorsteps

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Agnes Mwikali walks down a dusty road to the local Roman Catholic Church mission when her pantry runs dry.

There, beyond the metal gate and the church garden where the crops are withering, she steps into the administration building and asks for a 4-pound bag of cornmeal.

In Thatha, her home, about 93 miles northeast of Nairobi, a severe drought has left many families without food, water and pasture for their livestock.

Mwikali, a 40-year-old mother, has watched in consternation, as extreme temperatures have destroyed crops, drained water sources and laid grazing fields to waste.

“We are trying everything,” she said. “There are many of us. Many families don’t have enough food.”

Mwikali has 14 mouths to feed; her children range in age from 23 years old to 3 months. She has supported herself by weeding, herding or fetching water. But that kind of work has become scarce with the advent of the drought.

“The rains are our greatest disappointment,” she said. “Every season, we plant our seeds and watch the crops germinate, only for the rains to leave before they mature.”

At the Thatha Roman Catholic Mission, part of the Machakos Diocese, the Rev. Gerard Matolo increasingly sees more people seeking help.

“You can’t tell them that there is nothing,” Matolo said. “As their shepherd, I have to find a way to ensure they get something to eat. Sometimes I share my own food.”

Matolo estimates that nearly 3,000 people in his parish urgently need food aid. About 30,000 are at risk.

A bag of cornmeal or a bottle of oil would make a difference for a family, but the priest said there is too little to give.

The last time this region received meaningful rainfall was seven years ago. So Matolo has been storing the little food he gets as part of the agricultural tithe that small farmers and others have traditionally given the mission.

But unless things change, Matolo fears, soon cows, goats, sheep and donkeys will start dying.

East Africa is in the grips of yet another severe drought, largely attributed to climate change. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts the continent will be hardest hit by climate change, in part because 1 in 4 people in the region lives in extreme poverty.

The recurrent droughts have taken a heavy toll on religious leaders, as they move to aid communities threatened by starvation. The current drought has hit Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, South Sudan and Ethiopia, disrupting livelihoods for millions of people.

According to religious leaders, the battles against the drought have been fierce and draining and governments are not doing enough.

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