Save Turkana

Don Golden, vice president of World Relief, discusses how the famine has affected the way of life for many pastoralists living in Turkana, Kenya — and ways that we can save it.

Photo credit: World Relief
Famine. This tragic word is used now in the international media to describe the crisis unfolding in the Horn of Africa. Refugees fleeing Somalia overcrowd the Dadaab camp in Eastern Kenya and images of emaciated children reach our television screens. Aid is flowing to the camps but the need for food and water continues to outstrip the supply. It is of utmost importance that aid continues, but awareness and action must expand beyond the camps.

I recently traveled to Turkana with World Relief, where I witnessed first-hand the food security crisis unfolding in this region of northern Kenya. In the village of Loruth, I saw the graves -– eight dead over the course of two months in this community of 60 households. In the remote settlement of Lorumor, I saw dying babies and the desperate adults who can no longer keep them alive. In Lokitaung, I watched the elderly, dead-eyed and too feeble to stand, walk miles to receive a bit of corn and beans.

There are no words to capture death by starvation but I bear witness to the fact: the young and old of Turkana are starving to death. Much of Turkana faces the same drought conditions as Somalia. In many areas, 4 out of 10 children are malnourished, and 1 in 10 is severely malnourished. In order to prevent famines like Somalia, we must respond earlier to emergencies like Turkana.

The crisis is magnified by the fact that Turkana is isolated and remote and the people are ruggedly independent. Beyond the world’s attention, an ancient people are struggling to survive. Rising global temperatures and persistent drought are destroying Turkana pasture and livestock, and with it their traditional way of life. I have seen the painful reality of hungry children and vulnerable communities before. I have never born witness to an entire culture threatened with extinction.

With more attention and more assistance, there is hope that Turkana can flourish again. Agencies like World Relief, working alongside local Kenyan churches and the World Food Programme, can help increase food access for more of the 200,000 vulnerable in Turkana. Yet food alone is not enough. To avoid dependency, new solutions in agriculture and food-security are required and long term economic interventions will be needed to sustain a recovery for the people of Turkana.

There is hope in Turkana that a famine can be averted and an ancient culture can be saved. We can respond to this emergency before it becomes a catastrophe.

Take action by signing ONE’s petition urging world leaders to end hunger and its causes now and visit World Relief’s website to provide assistance for the vulnerable of Turkana.

Don Golden is a spokesperson and vice president with World Relief in Baltimore, Md., and co-author with Rob Bell of the book, “Jesus Wants to Save Christians,” a call for Christians to engage the great causes of our day.