Guest blogger Jessie Thomson is the emergency response program manager for CARE Canada and recently returned from Kenya, where she was part of the CARE emergency response team. Jessie is travelling back to Kenya this weekend.
In Kenya, there is a saying that when a cow dies in a drought, it dies facing the nearest water point. You’ve likely seen the photos on the news – pictures of cow carcasses laying where they fell on the dry, cracked earth in East Africa. Perhaps you find the pictures shocking or perhaps you barely notice and think, “that’s sad, but it’s just a cow.” For me, it’s not only sad to see an animal that has died trying to reach water and food, but with each death there is a family that was dependent upon that animal for their food and income.
I travelled by road to Dadaab, now the world’s largest refugee camp in the world. It’s about an eight and a half hour journey from Nairobi – and the place you start couldn’t be more different than the one you arrive at. After you leave the bustling metropolis of Nairobi, it’s a long journey of increasingly less and less greenery. The closer you get to Dadaab, the drier and less hospitable it gets – and the more the animal carcasses start to appear.
The cow carcasses – one every 100 feet – got to me. I grew up in a small town in farm country. I know what a cow means to a farmer: it’s more than an animal, it’s your livelihood. To lose a cow is to lose your ability to feed and care for your family. For the new refugees arriving at Dadaab, this is the situation they’re in. Many have sold off all their belongings or simply left them behind in order to get to Dadaab where they hope to find help for their family.
I’ve worked in a number of emergency situations, from Haiti to Pakistan, but Dadaab was like nothing I had seen before. People were arriving hungry, many having walked for weeks. They arrive to join thousands other people in a similar situation as them. When new refugees arrive they receive a food ration that is good for 21 days in the reception area.
I was in Kenya to help work on CARE’s emergency strategy. We’re responding now, with life-saving food and water, but we’re also planning activities to help families recover from this crisis and to build resiliency in communities both inside and outside the camps, so that families don’t have to face an emergency like this again in the future.