Violence left the heart – Kenyan Festus Kipkorir found peace through education
A vicious circle of violence on top of well as climate change threaten the future of young people living in Kerio Valley, Kenya. This is a story about a young man who swapped cattle rustling for peace work.
A HERD OF brown and mottled cows bring traffic to a halt on a narrow unpaved road. The thorny bushes, large rocks, and deep pits in the reddish-brown sand leave no room for a 4×4 to get through.
In front of the car, sleepy cows are eyeing the vehicle, but they’re in no rush. Sweat drenches underarm, as the wait gets longer and longer under the morning sun. Even so, the driver waits patiently for one cow after another to move out of the way of the crawling vehicle.
It’s a view worth rejoicing at. In the Kerio Valley in western Kenya, all is well if the cattle can graze freely. Cows are considered valuable property, much like camels, which are less common in this part of the region. The communities in the valley steal cattle from each other, and the violence unfortunately often escalates into a conflict that spares no lives.
“Thieves killed my father in 2002. I was pretty small, and I also lost my aunt around that time. Two people at once”, says Festus Kipkorir, 24, and looks around.
In the bush between the road and the Kerio River his father was tending the family cattle, and this is where his body was found. The cattle probably continued the journey, herded by thieves, to the other side of the river. To the Kipkorir family, losing a father and husband and their most valuable property simultaneously led to hard times.
Cattle are the most important asset of the nomadic people in Kenya’s Kerio Valley. When the cattle graze freely, peace prevails in the valley. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / FCA
Although the family’s financial situation deteriorated rapidly, Kipkorir was still able to go to school until the 8th grade. However, his father’s fate continued to bother him.
“Violence stays in the heart,” describes Kipkorir of the feeling that leads to a circle of revenge – one even children and young people can’t avoid.
Stealing cattle is part of a cycle of revenge
“I was 13 when I first held a gun.”
Kipkorir says that boys as young as 10 become part of violence when a conflict flares between cattle thieves. The youngest are left behind to keep guard over the village, and the older boys go with the men to the neighbouring regions in the darkness of night. Stealing cattle from the other side of the river is a rite that turns boys into men.
Thieves can form a group of up to a hundred young men in order to go and steal cattle. A large group insures the success of the plundering foray, and the simple number of people can also scare their opponents.
“We might take two thousand animals at once,” Kipkorir reveals.
Kipkorir built his tin-roofed two-room house himself. The temperature outdoors has climbed past 30 degrees, and Kipkorir has invited us into the shade of his home. Hot milk tea, called Chiya, is steaming in mugs.
We talk about the environmental reasons that sustain the conflict between the communities in the Kerio Valley. Traditionally, the tribes of the valley have supported themselves as nomads. Cattle, particularly cows and camels, represent for people cash, credit and an investment fund for their families. By selling cattle, the families can pay bills, send children to school, and invest in business activities.
Cattle need a lot to eat and must be tended in large areas. In recent years, the situation in the Kerio Valley has become increasingly tense due to the lack of pasture during dry seasons. Climate change has made the annual cycle more unpredictable.
In Kenya, rain has been delayed particularly in the east and north of the country in the Garissa and Marsabiti regions, but here in the west in the Kerio Valley, autumn 2022 was dry.
“The other side of the Kerio River is very different to this side. It’s very dry, no trees, just thorny bushes and sand,” Kipkorir says. “That’s why our neighbours from the other side bring their cattle to this side of the river to graze more often. That leads to arguments, because then there’s not much to eat for our cattle.”
Due to the impact of climate change, life in the Kerio Valley in Kenya has become increasingly challenging for those who still support themselves as nomads. Due to drought, livestock grazing lands are shrinnking, especially in the central parts of the valley, which increases conflict and violence between different tribes. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / FCA
Kipkorir lives on the west side of the Kerio River, and here life isn’t as dependent on cattle as it is on the drier side of the river. The hills surrounding the valley rise as high as 2.5 kilometres above sea level. On the hillsides, there’s plenty of water for irrigation, which makes it easier to grow vegetables. Below the slopes, corn, tomatoes, beans, and papayas are grown.
Kipkorir guides us to sit down under a mango tree. This is his new life, a reason to give up cattle theft: mangoes, a patch of vegetables, and a dairy cow that produces, even on a meagre diet, enough milk to be sold. The cow is flicking flies with her tail and calmly chewing on her food.
“The biggest reason for the reduction of cattle theft is that people have been trained to farm and they’re no longer dependent on pastureland,” Kipkorir notes.
It’s hard to let go of violence
It was difficult for Kipkorir to leave the community of cattle thieves, even if it was a source of sadness and fear to loved ones.
“When my mother found out about my participation in cattle theft, she didn’t see me for a while,” Kirpkorir tells.
She couldn’t accept her son’s criminal and dangerous lifestyle.
“I tried to explain to her that this is about me, not her. In that situation, you just think you’re right. You’re not interested in anyone else’s opinion,” Kipkorir says.
“In reality, my opinions were dictated by a group I felt I was part of. I also felt the need to revenge my father’s death.”
Mother Salome Kiptoo says she feared her son wouldn’t come back from the night-time raids. Some of the young men never return, some come back disabled.
“I feared and prayed every time he left. I still remember what a good and hard-working student he was at school,” mother tells.
Climate change creates the threat of violence, which causes children to drop out of school
The cycle of violence and the sudden impoverishment of families in the Kerio Valley is also a threat to the education of children and adolescents. The obstacles are financial as well as security related. In recent years, cattle thieves have struck schools and even a bus that was taking students on a trip.
Festus Kipkoriri’s wife Francisca Kiptoo hangs laundry in the yard belonging to the small family. They have a home they built themselves and plot of land in Kenya’s Kerio Valley where they grow mangoes, vegetables and corn. The family also has a dairy cow with enough milk to sell. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / FCA
Festus Kipkorir hopes that the peace of the Kerio Valley will last and that it will be possible for him to send his own son to school. As a father, he wants his child to get a good education so that he can choose a more reliable livelihood than cattle rearing when he grows up. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / KUA
“Some of the schools in the Kerio Valley have lost a lot of their students. Those with money have transferred their children to other schools, and some simply don’t let their children go to school,” tells Finn Church Aid (FCA) programme director Alexon Mwasi.
The capricious nature of climate change adds to poverty. Based on an estimate by UNESCO, approximately two million children between the ages of 6 and 17 don’t go to school in Kenya. Most of them are from families that live a nomadic lifestyle in areas like the Kerio Valley.
“FCA supports the poorest families in the Kerio Valley as well as a few other areas that have suffered from drought, so that the children can return to school. The aim is to reach about 41 500 school dropouts,” says Mwasi.
Education secures the future
Kipkorir knows he’s lucky; in the end, he was able to finish school despite the family facing poverty after the death of his father. He believes that education helped him give up cattle theft. Based on his experiences, he’s tried to convince his former friends to leave behind a violent life.
“I’ve reminded them that just like me, they’ve also gone to school. At school, we’ve been taught community spirit and brotherhood. It’s not right to kill and steal.”
Kipkorir says that some of the former cattle thieves are now, like him, on the side of peace. They play in the same football team with some younger men.
“Football gives us an opportunity to get to know our neighbours on the other side of the river. Playing is a much fairer way to measure our strength,” Kipkorir points out.
“We are peace ambassadors on this side, and our neighbours in the other team are peace ambassadors on their own side. Together, we can stop the violence.”
Salome Kiptoo’s big eyes are shining when she talks about how her son has changed.
“Initially I didn’t even believe him when he told me he’s giving up cattle theft and starting to farm land. At last I started to believe, and I helped him buy seeds to grow green lentils and beans.”
Now her son has his own little farm and a family, a wife and son. Just like his mother wanted.
“I believe that a lasting peace with come with many blessings. There’ll be no need to fear that the children won’t come back at night. Good things will happen in the community when there’s peace. Everyone wins,” says Salome Kiptoo.
Kipkorir’s son is still tiny. What does the young father wish for his son?
“I want him to finish school.”
Right now, there is peace. Children in school uniforms are walking on the side of the road, people of different ages are sat in the shade of large trees, and the doors and windows of low, tin-roofed kiosks are open. Trucks are bouncing and swaying on the bouncy road, and men are picking up sack of mangoes piled on the side of the road.
Text: Elisa Rimaila Photos: Antti Yrjönen
FINN CHURCH AID (FCA) supports the education of children and young people in Kenya through the Common Responsibility Campaign in areas where climate change has increased poverty and insecurity. In many places, young people become involved in local conflicts between different communities. The project supports the return of young people to school, who have previously dropped out. In addition to material and educational support, young people in a particularly vulnerable position receive psychosocial support. The project will also build and renovate toilets and handwashing stations in schools. The Common Responsibility Campaign builds up FCA’s disaster fund, which can be used to help where the need is greatest.
When your whole fortune dries up. The two-year drought has taken everything from the pastoralists of northern Kenya
East Africa is struggling through an unprecedented drought. Since October 2020, four consecutive rainy seasons have failed, and the fifth seems to fail as well. In northern Kenya, the nomadic population has lost all of their property, meaning cattle, which has traditionally been by far the most popular investment in the region. The situation can be compared to a total collapse of the stock exchange in Finland. Lives are in danger, too.
SHEDO ISACKO ROBA, 25, started her journey to the nearest borehole with her friends yesterday. The distance is approximately 40 kilometres, and the young woman, familiar with the conditions of the journey, covers it in a couple of days. There is no water in Shedo Isacko’s home village, Gareru in the north of Kenya.
Shedo Isacko knows how much hardship the failure of the rainy seasons causes in the lives of the locals.
“For the past two years I’ve come here to get water and look for food for my children,” she says whilst washing her laundry at the well.
The clothes are so covered in sand dust that the water instantly turns brown, and they need to be rinsed several times.
After finishing her load of laundry, Shedo Isacko fills up her worn-out yellow plastic jugs with water and ties them on a donkey’s back for the way home. 40 litres of water is enough for a family of five for two days, but due to the drought, Isacko can’t find enough food.
“We share what we can get between us. Sometimes we have food, sometimes we don’t. Life is tough.”
The cattle perish first – then the people
Isacko’s family lives a nomadic life, just like most people in the region. The drought has killed most of the family’s livestock. Shedo Isacko mourns not only for the lost property but also for what’s ahead.
“I’m afraid there will be no more rain. When the cattle have already died as a result of drought, we’ll soon be losing human lives. That’s what scares me.”
According to official figures, by the beginning of November no-one has died directly due to the ongoing drought or food shortage. In neighbouring Somalia, the situation is several steps ahead: based on a UN report, thousands of people had died by mid-October and half a million people are at risk of death. In the Marsabit region in northern Kenya, health officials are extremely concerned about the direction of development.
“At the moment, the deaths in the region aren’t directly caused by malnutrition, but they are strongly linked. Many deaths, particularly among the elderly, are caused by illnesses that hit undernourished people,” says Bokayo Arero, the director of nutrition at the Marsabit health department.
The pastoralists of Marsabit in Northern Kenya are severely affected by the droughts. Since the drought began in 2020 the working water supplies are further and further away, and a lot of livestock has died from lack of food and water. Photo: Björn Udd / FCA
Undernourished people are more likely to contract pneumonia, diarrhoea, and tuberculosis. The elderly, children, pregnant women, and disabled people are in a particularly vulnerable position. According to a health screening conducted in October, 92 percent of the surveyed children under the age of five in Marsabit were malnourished, and approximately half of them had received urgent treatment.
Especially in the case of children, malnutrition leads to serious, life-long consequences.
“Both physical and mental development suffer from malnutrition,” Bokayo Arero emphasises.
Food shortage also puts people under mental strain. Those whose entire property dries up can suffer from mental health issues.
“The population here is completely dependent on their livestock. There have even been a few reports of suicides being committed, when people notice that they have nothing left,” notes Bokay Arero.
Hungry children have trouble learning
The drought and the resulting food shortage have an impact on schooling, too. A few dried-up trees stand in the schoolyard of the Boru Haro village school, and the most energetic of the children are playing in the shade. The rest of the pupils sit and rest under the roofs of the building.
The principal Wako Salesa Dambi says that the drought and lack of food make children stay home instead of coming to school. The pupils who do come to school tend to be tired, and staying focused in class can be difficult.
“Even just for the sake of humanity, I think it’s important that the basic needs of the pupils are met. If their tummies are full, they listen, learn, and do their homework,” Wako Salesa points out.
Previously the state supported school lunches, but currently there’s no support available. After the elections in August, the resources are scarce, as the resulting transfer of power has brought financial transactions between the state and the local government almost to a standstill.
A school lunch is an important meal for children and a reason to come to school for many. Particularly younger students are likely to stay at home, if they haven’t had anything to eat the night before.
12-year-old George Guyo has returned to school after being absent for 10 days. Now he sits in the front row learning how to read a clock.
“My parents haven’t got money for food, so I can’t come to school. When I don’t get enough food, my health gets worse.”
George Guyo can clearly tell how hunger makes it more difficult to go to school, and his learning results deteriorate.
“When I’m hungry, I think about food all the time, and I can’t focus in class.”
“My biggest wish is that there would be enough food for us children and that we’d be able to maintain a balanced diet.”
In December in Kenya, a national exam will be held to students finishing primary school. The result of the exam determines which secondary school the pupil will continue in. Wako Salesa fears that the results will be negatively impacted by the food shortage.
“Getting a good exam result will be difficult for the children who’ve had to skip breakfast and lunch. It would be great if we could offer food for the pupils, but it seems impossible. The parents are currently so poor that they can’t afford to pack a lunch for their kids,” says Wako Salesa.
“This two-year drought is completely exceptional”
One of the main reasons to the poverty in the region is that the majority of cattle has either died or in such a dire shape that it’s lost its value. Previously, a cow would be sold for 20 000 Kenyan shillings, or approximately 160 euros. Now, a cow is worth as little as 500 shillings, or four euros, as the livestock is in bad condition and many people are simultaneously trying to sell their animals to the butcher.
Locally, the situation is comparable to a total market crash. Traditionally, the nomadic population has invested its entire wealth in livestock.
50-year-old Elema Gufu Sharamu has, in his words, been a nomad since he was born. He has brought his caravan of camels to drink from the well repaired by Finn Church Aid. He used to have plenty of cows and goats, but most of them have died because of the food shortage caused by the drought.
“There have been dry periods previously, but this two-year drought is completely exceptional. The circumstances have led to grass not growing, and there’s nothing for the animals to eat.”
As a nomad, Elema Gufu is used to being on the move. It takes him eight hours to walk to the nearest bore well.
“This well is really important to us. If it didn’t exist, we’d have to travel even further.”
Sharamu’s family comprises of two wives and nine children. He used to be able to easily provide for them all, but the situation has changed.
“I take cattle to the market and sell it there, but the prices have dropped dramatically. I haven’t got enough money for food, and sometimes we must skip lunch. It feels bad not to have enough food for my family.”
Currently Elema Gufu Sharamu borrows food from his neighbours, which isn’t a sustainable solution. He’s afraid for his family.
“If this drought continues and the rest of my cattle dies, we too will die. I have no other option. I can’t read, and I won’t be able to get another job. There’s nothing for me in the city.”
The health officials of Marsabit have noticed that parts of the population are drifting towards towns and cities. The director of health Bokayo Arero deems this problematic.
“I don’t think it’s a good survival mechanism. There really isn’t enough work for even those who already live near the cities. Now, an entire family might move to live with a young man working a day job at a construction site. A single income simply isn’t sufficient.”
Conflicts in the area escalate
However, sometimes circumstances force people to move close to population centres. In Marsabit, there are tensions between tribes that every now and then spew out for various reasons. A year ago, the home of Biftu Boroyani’s family was burned in clashes. The family of four used to live in a house of their own, had a small allotment that provided them with enough food, and a few goats.
“When I lived there, I was able to live in peace. I felt no stress. We used to make a good living from our plot.”
Now the family has had to come up with new ways to make a living. Biftu Boroyani’s husband is working in construction. When they have enough food at home, Biftu cooks a larger batch at once and sells it to the nearby construction workers.
“Recently it’s been difficult for both of us to find work opportunities. Because of the drought and lack of money few people are building right now, so making money is hard.”
Because of the difficult situation, Biftu Boroyani used to be able to offer food for the family only once a day. She was stressed out when she noticed how hunger made her children too tired to play.
Now the Boroyani family has received a cash allowance from Finn Church Aid. The 74-euro allowance is given in three consecutive months directly to a mobile phone in mobile money. Biftu Boroyani has received the first instalment, which she spent on food and school fees. Although food is scarce, Biftu Boroyani thinks that the children’s education is at least just as important.
“If the children get a good education, they can get a good job and then support us later. That’s why I make sure the school fees are covered.”
Although the first part of the allowance was spent on food and education, Biftu hopes to be able to use the coming instalments on establishing a small business. She’s planning on buying basic supplies from the city and then selling them near her home.
However, Biftu is still scared that the drought will drag on.
“I can only pray for the rain to come.”
Text and photos: Björn Udd
The prolonged drought in Northern Kenya has resulted in a lack of access to water. Here a group of women were washing their clothes at a borehole in October. Goats are better equipped to deal with drought and lake of grazing opportunities than cattle, but even the goats have started to perish now. Kuva: Björn Udd / FCA
In Nepal’s Far West, pig and vegetable farming is the main source of livelihood for former bonded labourers
Former bonded labourers in Nepal’s Far Western Region earn a modest living by raising pigs and growing vegetables. FCA offers support to local people to help them earn a living, but in the most impoverished villages severe drought and all-engulfing fires make life extremely challenging.
IN A NORMAL summer, the Mohana River floods across the flat terrain all the way to the village of Bipatpur. Taking vegetables across the river to India would require a boat and a skipper.
In Nepal’s Far West, the annual monsoon season usually starts in early June, but this year the rains were weeks late. For local women, crossing the border from Nepal to India seems fairly easy; all they have to do is lift up their saris, roll up their trouser legs and wade across the river. It has been scorching hot for nearly two weeks now, with temperature rising above 40 degrees.
The ground is parched, and plants and people are desperate for water. Some of the wells in the village have dried up and there is no point in looking for new ones because finding groundwater is too uncertain and the costs of digging too high.
This has been an exceptional year in more ways than one. This spring, following a disaster in April that destroyed the harvest and stores, the women of Bipatpur had nothing to sell to the Indian vegetable markets across the river.
During a normal summer the water in the Mohana river is much higher by June. The women of Bipatpur village cross the river to sell their vegetables on the Indian side. Photo: Uma Bista
“Only people were saved”
Burning crop residue on the fields to release nutrients is an annual tradition in Bipatpur. This year, an unpredictable and exceptionally strong wind caused the fire to spread quickly and uncontrollably. Houses, food containers, and livestock shelters burned down one after another. The fire destroyed or damaged the homes of 71 families and killed domestic animals.
Villagers cleared away the charred tree trunks, but the sad and disheartened feelings remain.
“Only people were saved,” the women say.
The fire also engulfed a large chunk of the village cooperative’s savings, which were kept in a box. Belmati Devi Chaudhary, 42, looks at the charred remains of her house.
“Everything is gone. All we have is emergency aid.”
A sow the family had bought with financial support from Finn Church Aid died in the fire. Without a mother to care for them, five piglets died, too. This was a huge loss for the Chaudhary family.
The money Belmati Devi Chaudhary had earned from pig farming helped her to pay for her children’s schooling. Standing next to his mother, the family’s eldest son Sanjay Chaudhary, 23, looks helpless.
“I may have to go to Kathmandu to find work. It’s difficult to get a paid job here,” he says.
For many years, scores of young Nepalese men have left for the capital city or for India in search of odd jobs, but Belmati doesn’t want her son to follow in their footsteps.
Like many others in Bipatpur and in the surrounding Kailali District, the Chaudhary family are former bonded labourers. Although Nepal’s 200-year-old Haliya and Kamayia bonded labour systems were abolished in the early 2000s, many former bonded labourers and their descendants are still very vulnerable.
Houses, food containers, and livestock shelters burned down one after another in April in the village of Bipatpur, Far West region of Nepal. The fire destroyed or damaged the homes of 71 families and killed domestic animals. Photo: Uma Bista
Sustainable livelihood with pig farming
Jumani Chaudhary, 50, is one of 29 women in a group supported by FCA. These women run a pig farm in the municipality of Gauriganga. They have learned how to make porridge for pigs from corn and wheat milling byproducts.
“By feeding pigs porridge, we save on feeding costs, and the pigs are healthier and grow faster,” Jumani Chaudhary says.
The women plan to start selling their pig feed to other pig farmers. To safeguard feed production, they would like to set up their own mill.
Gaumati Sunuwar, 56, has received support from FCA on pig farming in Amargadhi, Dadeldhura district. Photo: Uma Bista
In a pig pen, three different-coloured pigs oink and jostle for food. Sows are less than a year old when they produce their first litter. Typically they can produce two litters a year, around ten piglets each time. With the right care and nutrition, pigs grow quickly.
“A full-grown boar is worth up to 30,000 rupees,” says Bishni Chaudhary, 43.
Sanu Chaudhary, 27, who lives next door and is also a member of the women’s group, says she recently sold seven pigs for 50,000 rupees. Converted to euros, the sums seem somewhat modest: a thousand rupees equals roughly seven euros. But in the Far Western Region of Nepal, this money goes a long way. You can buy a school uniform for your child, meals for the entire school year, a water bottle and school supplies.
“Pig farming is easier and requires less work than buffalo farming. Buffaloes only produce milk part of the year, when they nurse their calves,” Jumani Chaudhary explains.
When buffaloes don’t produce milk, they produce nothing, but cost ten times the price of a pig.
“Before, we had to beg for food”
The road further west to the Dadeldhura district twists and turns along the lush green hills. Compared to the flat terrains of Kailali, Dadeldhura is topographically much more uneven. The winding road barely fits our car, giving the scenic drive an extra twist. Finally, we arrive in the village of Ganyapdhura.
We can see hints of green on the terraced farms even though the rains are late. The Dalit community living here grows cauliflower, potatoes and zucchini. Growing vegetables is more than a livelihood; it has given the community a sense of value.
“Before, we had to beg for food, but now we grow vegetables for sale,” says Gita Devi Sarki, 38.
In 2019, Finn Church Aid helped the community further improve its farming efficiency by supporting the Sarki family and 24 other local farmers in the introduction of tunnel farming. The plastic cover of the tunnel protects the vegetables from the elements and retains moisture. The community also received a walk-behind tractor, which makes plowing much easier. Gita Devi Sarki is the only woman who knows how to operate the machine – and even she needs her husband’s help to start it.
Gita Devi Sarki plows a field using a hand tractor to plant vegetables at Kholibasti, Ganyapdhura Rural municipality in Dadeldhura. The couple is now working together and hoping to expand their vegetable farming with the support they receive from FCA. Photo: Uma Bista
“Before, our farm was just big enough to produce corn and wheat for our own family. Now we can save 410 rupees each month by selling some of the vegetables we grow,” she says.
Most importantly, having a more secure livelihood meant that Gita’s husband Padam Bahadur Sarki, 42, was able to return home from India, where he worked for twenty years. The couple have been together for 22 years and have four children. Almost all this time, Gita Devi Sarki was in charge of the family’s day-to-day life, alone.
“I returned to Nepal due to the COVID-19 lockdowns,” he says.
“It’s a good thing you came back,” Gita Devi Sarki says, with a grin.
“Yeah, it’s been OK,” her husband replies, causing the group of women sitting around him to burst into laughter.
Having her husband back has reduced Gita Devi Sarki’s workload in the farms. The family plans to expand their business to raising goats and small-scale fish farming in a small pond in the valley.
Bahadur Damai, 52, (centre) with his family at Ganyapdhura Rural Municipality in Dadeldhura district received support from FCA for chicken farming. In the spring of 2022, Bahadur Damai was elected as a ward member in the local government. Photo: Uma Bista
From bonded labourer to a member of a local government
A pretty little house has a downstairs door open, and a wide-eyed cow peeks through the door. Bahadur Damai, 52, beckons to visitors to join him in the shade under a canopy. Back in the early 2000s, before the abolition of the Haliya system, he was a bonded labourer, mending other people’s clothing. Today, he smiles happily as he talks to us about his chickens and a small tailor’s shop he has opened in a nearby village centre.
Money has given his family a more stable livelihood, allowing him to buy things like a television. He has also been able to pay for the weddings of his two adult daughters, something that clearly makes him very proud.
One of his greatest achievements, however, was being elected a member of the local government in May.
“It’s all thanks to FCA that I am where I am now. I received support for vegetable and chicken farming, and I’ve been able to build relationships that won me votes in the election.” He pauses mid-sentence when a gust of wind tries to rip off the chicken coop’s corrugated iron roof. Bahadur Damai gestures at his son, telling him to put big stones on the roof to keep it in place.
“A new chicken coop would be nice,” he says. Suddenly he becomes serious.
“You know, my wife and I only have one significant difference: she has aged faster.”
The look on his face says this is not a joke.
“Women age faster here because their lives are so much harder that men’s. It is a local tradition that women eat after everyone else, whatever is left. Pregnancies, childbirths, hard physical labour…As an elected member of the local government, I intend to raise awareness of the problems women have in our communities, such as the disproportionate burden of domestic work and domestic violence,” Bahadur Damai says.
But that’s not the only thing he wants to draw attention to. In this district, former bonded labourers are still not eligible for the Nepali government rehabilitation programme, which promises them land ownership, education for children, and employment opportunities for young people.
Charred trees are a reminder of the fire that brought the small village of Bipatpur to its knees in April. Photo: Uma Bista
Bank accounts secure the future
In Bipatpur, the village women have gathered together under a canopy. In fact, this used to be a house, one of the women points out. The charred roof beams have been removed and replaced with new ones. At noon, the sun is beating down, and the temperature in the shade is approaching forty degrees. It turns out that the name of the village, Bipatpur, means disaster in the local language. This village has certainly had its fair share of disasters, from floods to fires.
But perhaps today things will take a turn for the better. Representatives of the local government and the bank will be visiting the village. With support from FCA, every family that lost their house in the spring fire will receive a humanitarian cash transfer. For those whose homes were damaged to some degree, 13,500 rupees, or about 106 euros, will be offered for reconstruction, and those who suffered the greatest losses will receive 34,500 rupees, or 270 euros. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, families and the elderly will receive an additional 500 rupees.
For the first time, cash transfers will be paid to women’s own bank accounts. This ensures that their money is safe, and that even if another disaster strikes the village, not all of their possessions will be gone.
Text: Elisa Rimaila Photos: Uma Bista Translation: Leni Vapaavuori
Finn Church Aid has had a country office in Nepal since 2013. Our work focuses on providing income opportunities for former bonded labourers, on ensuring the realisation of their rights, and on improving women’s livelihoods. After the earthquake in 2015, we built safe school facilities for 44,000 children, trained teachers and supported mental recovery. In 2021, we took action to alleviate the food insecurity affecting nearly 18,000 people as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elisha Chaudhary sleeps while her mother Sajita Chaudhary is attending a meeting at Bipatpur. Photo: Uma Bista
Famine striking Somalia – half of the population facing extreme food shortages
The World Food Programme (WFP) issued a projected famine threatening the areas of Baidoa and Burhakaba in Somalia in October. Finn Church Aid has been giving cash assistance to the most disadvantaged families in the area.
THE FOOD SECURITY in Somalia has been severely affected by a long drought. The Horn of Africa has been lacking the usual seasonal rains since the spring of 2020, affecting the livelihoods of the local population. The nomadic populations have been especially severely hit by the food shortages. On September 5th the UN issued a warning of a projected famine threatening the Bay region in Somalia.
Finn Church Aid is one of the NGOs delivering aid to Somalia. FCA has provided cash assistance to the most disadvantaged families in Baidoa in Somalia.
The complex situation in Somalia has also been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, making it harder to import grain. As much as 90 per cent of the wheat used in Somalia was imported from Ukraine and Russia before the war. Somalia is also going through a severe inflation, which has increased the price of food in various regions by 30–160 per cent. In addition to this, both local conflicts and terrorist attacks have had a devastating effect on the Somalian population.
A famine is declared when one-fifth of households in a certain geographic area suffer from extreme food shortages, and more than one-third of the population suffers from severe malnutrition. Famine also increases mortality above the normal daily level. Child mortality in particular is increased by a famine.
“Famine is the most difficult stage of food insecurity. It literally means that people are in danger of dying. It means that the population doesn’t have enough food to maintain vital bodily functions”, says Ikali Karvinen, Country Director of Finn Church Aid in Somalia.
Food shortage creates displacement
The current famine threatens almost half of the population of Somalia, 7 million people out of a population of 16 million. The World Food Programme, WFP, estimates that 1.5 million children under the age of 5 currently suffer from acute malnutrition, and more than a million people have been forced to leave their homes due to the crisis.
“The deteriorating health of children, elderly and other vulnerable populations is the first sign of a famine. Without access to food people will perish if nothing is done,” says Karvinen.
In 2011 Somalia was hit by a famine, leading to the deaths of 250,000 people. Half of the deceased were children.
“Even right now, as we speak, children are dying of malnutrition in Somalia.”
Finn Church Aid has distributed cash assistance in Somalia to the most disadvantaged families.
“There are many ways to help in this situation. One of them is to raise awareness. It is good to remember that even though the West is facing difficult times, crises like the famine in Somalia are happening all over the world.”
“Even a small contribution helps in a very tangible way. A family in Somalia, receiving 76 euros in cash assistance, can purchase food for a month. It shows how a relatively small amount of money can bring about quite sizeable changes,” says Karvinen.
Famine explained: What it is and how to prevent it
As of September 2022, Somalia, along with a big part of East-Africa, is on the verge of famine. The circumstances that have led to this situation are a long and difficult drought, the global pandemic, problems caused by the war in Ukraine, as well as local conflicts and terrorist attacks. But what is famine, and is it possible to prevent it? Here are the basic facts on famine:
What is famine?
Famine is a clearly defined state of emergency. The most commonly used classification method is the IPC (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification). Famine is the most severe stage on the five stage IPC scale.
The definition of a famine is a situation where a fifth of households face extreme food shortages, 30 per cent of the population is malnourished and two out of 10 000 people die every day. In other words, the situation must be extremely severe before a famine is declared.
When a famine is declared, people, especially children, are already dying of starvation.
What causes a famine?
A common misconception is that a famine is caused solely by problems in food production, but famine is usually caused by a multitude of problems that converge. A famine can be caused by a combination of any of the following: natural disasters, floods, drought, war or even political decisions.
This is the reason a famine never occurs as a surprise; it is always preceded by a dire food shortage that worsens over time. On the other hand, this also makes it possible to avoid a bad situation worsening into a famine by utilising appropriate countermeasures.
For example, the root cause of the incoming famine in Somalia is a long drought – a drought that has lasted over two years. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine has made import of wheat close to impossible. Previously 90 per cent of the wheat in Somalia came from Ukraine and Russia. Since then, import has become close to impossible, leading directly to food insecurity in the area.
The current drought has been long and disastrous. It has already lasted longer than the drought that caused the 2011 famine in Somalia, when over 250 000 people died.
Since 2020, The Horn of Africa has suffered an extreme drought as a consequence of climate crisis.
What are the long-term consequences of a famine
Famine and acute malnutrition can lead to death, but it can also lead to ailments and health issues for the rest of a person’s life. Stunted growth, susceptibility to disease and staying underweight are common issues for people who have been malnourished at some point in their lives. They are also more likely to have underweight children or give birth prematurely, making famine an intergenerational issue.
On a societal level famine makes a country prone to conflict and instability, driving people away from their homes. Because famine strikes children the hardest, often leading to child mortality skyrocketing, a famine might create a lost generation. Other vulnerable groups, like pregnant women or people with disabilities, are also highly affected by famine. In addition, instability and lack of resources make the youth susceptible to extremism and recruitment by terrorist organisations.
Can a famine be prevented?
It is possible to prevent a famine. When East-Africa was close to being struck by famine in 2017, the global community assisted the affected countries and the food shortage never developed into a famine. This time around, there has not been that kind of assistance available.
Delaying the assistance until famine is declared is a great problem. When a famine is declared people are already dying. Often, it is also easier to combat the root causes of a famine before the situation gets out of hand. Providing timely assistance can potentially save millions of lives.
What does Finn Church Aid do to prevent the current famine?
Finn Church Aid (FCA) has worked to reach long-term development goals in Somalia and Kenya. In Somalia FCA has provided access to education for children and youth living in conflict areas, as well as working towards peace and reconciliation on a local and national scale.
In this prolonged food shortage crisis FCA has begun to provide cash assistance to internally displaced people. The assistance is directed towards the most vulnerable families, often families headed by women or children, and FCA works hard to ensure that we reach those most in need. The cash assistance given can be used for buying necessities like food, medication or clothes, ensuring the families meeting their most basic needs.
Text: Björn Udd Photos: Dennis Otieno and Kevin Ochieng
FCA granted 400,000 euros to assist East Africa suffering from a food shortage — Up to 600,000 children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition in Kenya and Somalia
The worst drought in four decades along with inflation and problems with the availability of imported cereals (accelerated by the war in Ukraine) are causing the food shortage in the Horn of Africa. Within a short time, the price of a grocery shopping basket has risen by 36% in Somalia.
EAST AFRICA has been hit by the worst drought in four decades. The extreme weather caused by climate change has impacted Somalia, the eastern parts of Ethiopia and northern Kenya in particular. These regions have not seen normal seasonal rain for almost two years.
According to the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), up to a quarter (approximately 4.1 million) of the Somali population need urgent humanitarian food aid. By some NGO estimates, this figure is over six million people. In Kenya, more than two million people need food aid. According to estimates by experts, up to 600,000 children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition in Kenya and Somalia. As the drought continues, the humanitarian disaster is expected to grow and spread.
Drought is not the only factor affecting the food shortage in Somalia and Kenya; rather, what is at stake is a multiple crisis which has been exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine as well. As much as 90 per cent of the cereals consumed in Somalia are imported from Ukraine and Russia. Since February, the price of wheat has risen in Somalia by as much as 300 per cent.
In April, Finn Church Aid (FCA) granted 400,000 euros for a humanitarian relief operation in Kenya and Somalia. Now we have started our operation.
Food prices sky-rocketed after the war broke out in Ukraine
Ikali Karvinen is the country Director of FCA Somalia. He has been following very closely the dramatic impact of inflation on the price of food and the effects of drought on the food crisis.
“Because of inflation, the price of food has gone up by 30 per cent,” he says. “The same goes for the price of fuel.”
The price of essential foods like cooking oil, maize, millet, sesame seeds, peas and beans has even doubled in places. Approximately 70 per cent of the Somali population lives below the poverty line, meaning people live on less than two euros a day. As the value of money falls due to inflation, the little money will buy even less of anything: for example, food. Indeed, inflation combined with drought has been estimated to impact the lives of up to six million people in Somalia.
“While the climate crisis is greatly impacting especially East Africa, this particular spring the war in Ukraine is impacting food and energy inflation possibly the most,” says Director Karvinen. “So, here we now have two major crises overlapping each other.”
He continues by saying the nomadic shepherd population in Somalia is currently in a very dire situation. The drought is killing the cattle and along with their cattle, families are losing their livelihoods. The threat for Somalia is that a situation like the 2011 famine will repeat itself.
In response to this humanitarian crisis, FCA began distributing cash aid. This is a fast and humane way of helping which saves on the cost of logistics.
“Cash aid works as long as there are markets, be they shops or marketplaces, where people can buy food and other basic supplies and where money has some value,” Director Karvinen explains.
The falling value of money can become a problem for cash aid distributions, however.
“If inflation continues to rise at this rate, we will face some serious questions,” Director Karvinen continues. “Will it make sense to continue with cash aid or will we be forced to start distributing food at some point?”
Food distributions demand logistics
Food distribution demands logistics. In Somalia, the process can be hindered by the security situation which is currently extremely bad according to Director Karvinen. Meanwhile, the coronavirus is also continuing to spread in East Africa.
By mid-summer, the humanitarian operation of FCA will seek to distribute cash aid to the areas most affected by the food shortage; this will include 700 Somali and 600 Kenyan households. The operation aims to reach especially those families who have had to leave their homes due to the disaster and those most threatened by malnutrition. Households that rely on widowed women or children for their subsistence are at the very heart of FCA relief work.
Ikali Karvinen, Country Director for Somalia, ikali.karvinen[a]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, WhatsApp +358 40 509 8050, tel. +252 617 234 597.
Worst drought in forty years and aid cuts causehunger for millions in East Africa
The worst drought in forty years is hitting East Africa, pushing many in the region to the brink of famine. Despite the situation, governments across the Europe, including Finland, are cutting funding from development budgets and reallocating it to Ukraine. Tackling one crisis at the cost of another is not a sustainable solution.
IN KENYA, an assessment conducted by Finn Church Aid (FCA) revealed that some main water sources – rivers, boreholes, water pans and shallow wells – have insufficient water for both humans and livestock. Many boreholes are already dry, forcing people to travel over seven kilometers to collect water. Almost one million head of livestock have died in Garissa county in Kenya.
In Somalia, armed clashes, terrorist attacks, growing prices of food commodities are increasing the hardship caused by the drought.
“Aid actors are afraid that violence is making access to hard-to-reach communities even more limited, even to assess what the needs are, and we fear the worst,” said Ikali Karvinen, FCA Country Director, Somalia.
Climate change is a man-made crisis
FCA is assisting people in Kenya and Somalia with cash transfers, particularly to families without adult members or those headed by pregnant or lactating mothers, which will allow these people to buy food until the rainy season. However, the World Food Programme reports that 13 million people are facing acute food insecurity and severe water shortages in East Africa.
“This is another man-made crisis, just like Ukraine, except that the cause of the drought is climate change,” said Jouni Hemberg, Executive Director, FCA. “Those of us who still remember the famine in Ethiopia in the ‘80s are haunted by it. This is a similar event across a larger scale, but we have the means to prevent the suffering that the ‘80s famine caused.”
While climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of weather events, the funding needed to aid those who suffer is decreasing. Simultaneously, governments in Europe are reallocating funding to Ukraine. In 2017, 10% of development funding from Finland was spent on humanitarian programmes. In 2022, it is anticipated to be only 7% with the Finnish government planning to further slash aid levels for 2023.
Tackling one crisis while increasing instability somewhere else is not a sustainable solution. Concurrently these decisions seriously harm the relations created with developing countries.
“Developed countries, those who are largely responsible for climate change, must take responsibility for this. We must help those who are suffering because of it,” said Hemberg.