Interview with Ute Kirch, emergency relief coordinator
More than 12 million people in the horn of Africa – including over half a million children – are risking starvation after the region’s worst drought in several decades ravaged the land. In the beginning of August, Ute Kirch coordinated Malteser International’s first relief convoy, which carried food provisions from Nairobi to Marsabit in northern Kenya.
What did you encounter when you arrived in Marsabit?
Ute Kirch (UK): In this rural, barren region, the last two rainy seasons have been extremely poor. The people here live traditionally from cattle herding. But the pastures have dried out, the cattle is dying, and people have no more money to buy food. Many people can only have one meal a day – if at all. Water is very scarce. The next rainy season should come in the end of October; but, even if the rain comes, it will take many more months, if not years, until the people and the animals have recovered from the drought.
How is Malteser International helping?
UK: We brought staple foods for 17,000 people to Marsabit, where we are distributing them together with the Marsabit diocese through the health care units that we support. Each family is receiving a monthly ration consisting of 12 kilograms of rice, 6 kilograms of beans and 2 litres of oil. We are also going to give children, pregnant women and the elderly, who are particularly weak, a protein- and vitamin-enriched supplement. And, because the drought and malnutrition also cause other health problems, such as diarrhoea and bacterial infections, we’re also going to supply the health care units in four villages with medication to treat those diseases.
What is the next step? Are more deliveries planned?
UK: Thanks to the generosity of many private donors, we are now able to help nearly three times as many people as we had originally planned. In September, we’re planning another food shipment, this time for about 43,000 people. If we have enough funds after that, we will plan for more distributions.
Malteser International already provided emergency assistance in Marsabit in 2006 and 2009. What can be done so that the people don’t have to go through such a crisis again next year?
UK: There needs to be a long-term commitment in the region. Malteser International wants to help people to brace themselves for future droughts, so they can take care of themselves when it happens. We are planning to provide assistance in terms of food security – for instance, by creating cereal banks which provide reserves for times of drought. At the same time, income-generating measures can make the population less dependent on livestock. One of the possibilities would be to produce soap by using the bones and ashes from dead animals. Still, we cannot lose sight of the cultural aspect, since traditional cattle herders will not switch easily to a different occupation or a new way of life. By raising awareness, we will try to convince them of the benefits of having an alternative source of income. Another important aspect will be to expand and stabilise the health care system and the water supply. We depend on donations for all of those measures. That’s where the sustainable work really starts.
Interview by Petra Ipp-Zavazal, 10 August 2011
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