- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2006

GARSESALA, Kenya — As the grim toll from hunger and thirst mounts in Kenya’s drought-stricken northeast, frantic cattle-dependent nomads are slaughtering their starving herds to stave off famine.

In this bone-dry region, where the arid silence is pierced by the sobs of malnourished children and the dusty roads are littered with rotting animal carcasses, desperate pastoralists are turning to an emergency program in which they sell their cows and goats to be killed for meat for the community.

Amina Aden, 40, has come to this village with several of her nine children to have the last surviving cow in what was once a herd of 50 go under the knife beneath the blazing equatorial sun.

“This helps,” she said, watching workers toil amid the blood and stench of a makeshift abattoir, skinning and cleaning the bodies of about 20 cows brought in on a recent morning.

The government-funded scheme has picked up pace since it was begun last month amid dire warnings that some 2.5 million Kenyans will need food aid by February to survive the drought plaguing huge swaths of the Horn of Africa, where more than 6 million people are at risk.

The Mandera district in Kenya’s remote northeast bordering Somalia is perhaps the worst-hit area of the country. Already, 450 goats and 75 head of cattle have been slaughtered in and around the town of Garsesala, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society.

The agency says it has enough money now to buy 1,000 cows and 4,000 goats in the area where livestock, often a family’s most precious possession, have become a heavy burden amid a severe shortage of fodder and water and will most likely die anyway.

“It’s the first time this system has been used,” said Farid Abdulkadir, chief of disaster operations for the Kenya Red Cross Society, which buys cows for the equivalent of $41 each and goats for the equivalent of $11.

“We take them before they get too sick,” he said, adding that the meat of one cow can feed six families for two days. A goat can sustain four families over the same period.

District Officer Abukar Abdi praised the plan, but said it might be too little, too late for the region, where at least 40 people, mainly children, have died from hunger and related illness in the past month.

“This is good, but the intervention is slow,” he said. “It’s not adequate. People have meat for two days, but no medicine or anything else.

“This drought is a disaster,” Mr. Abdi said. “I’ve been here for 37 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

In a nearby village, named Borehole 11 for its well, dozens of veiled women leading a team of skinny mules loaded with water cans in search of water attest to the damage caused to livestock by failed rains over the past two years.

“I had 51 cows. Forty-five died, only six remain,” said Fatuma Oshow, 45, a mother of five.

Further south in Wajir district, about 360 miles from Nairobi, Omar Alli said his herd has been decimated and, with it, his ability to provide for his 15 children.

“I had 200 cattle, but I’m left with six. The others died of hunger,” he said, rubbing his salt-and-pepper beard. “I sold 20 camels to get food, and I now I have only 60 camels, two donkeys and 40 goats, but none of the goats can walk. I used to rely on the animals; now I have nothing.”

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