It crushes the ground, and the upper layer goes into the air in the form of dust. It’s eerily quiet. In the evening the crickets no longer clapped, and the pungent smell of raindrops incited the frogs to a chorus of drunks. The sound of bleating goats and braying of donkeys is missing from the pens of the shepherds: 3.5 million head of cattle have died in southern Ethiopia in recent months, in Kenya 2.5 million.
And they are not the only animals. The Kenya State Wildlife Organization counted the carcasses of 205 elephants, 512 wildebeest, 381 common zebra, 51 buffalo, 49 Grevy’s zebra and 12 giraffes in the first months of this year. In Amboseli Game Park on the border with Tanzania, 76 elephants died, half of them calves, because the mothers did not produce enough milk. An elephant usually drinks 240 liters of water per day.
Benina Malunza, Minister of Tourism and Wildlife, said recently that “steps are being taken to save the lives of animals, such as drilling wells and transporting water to drain ponds and dams.” In the past, the government has let animals die, and has let nature take its course. Not anymore. In the Tsavo Wildlife Park, animals are given water and salt, and in other parks they are fed. Earlier this year, Najib Balala, then Minister of Wildlife, said that “climate change is now killing 20 times as many elephants as poaching for ivory.”
Long and severe droughts have become common in eastern and southern Africa as well as in the Sahel region. In greetings between people, the first question is often: “Is it raining, where did you come from?” It has not rained enough in East Africa since 2019, and once again the rainy season leaves much to be desired in the final months of 2022. Periodic droughts have been part of the climate in Africa: every four or five years there has been a drought. Now this is more common.
In East African countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, 21 million people do not have enough to eat and three million are in an acute state of emergency. There are victims in Somalia. The NRC relief group recently stated: “Let’s be absolutely clear: Famine is silently killing tens of thousands in Somalia.” According to the United Nations, the lives of half a million children are at risk of starvation in that country – more than in any other country in the world this century.
Due to the overpopulation of humans and livestock and the underdevelopment of the hot and sandy Bedouin regions, the effects of drought became increasingly severe. Proud nomads are turning into poor: without livestock, there is no life. Barren and dry lands with their scarce resources can no longer cope with population pressure, which sometimes leads to armed competition between cattle breeders. Africa is the youngest continent in the world demographically and this puts a lot of pressure on nature. Forty years ago, 12 million people lived in Kenya, now more than 55 million.
In the Kenyan neighborhood of Samburu, in the Kraal district where the sweet scent of cow dung hung, gaunt old men sit idle in the shade. Even nostalgia for the green past could no longer bear them. An old man says: “After four years, I lost almost all my livestock, my end is imminent.” He rubs his bald head, searching for answers. “I don’t know how to go on, only if half of us humans die can the other half survive.”
This was not achieved in Kenya. No, if any, people would die of starvation. Unlike Somalia, only half of the country consists of dry areas, vegetables grow in the hills and mountains of the other half and rivers flow. Kenya also has an efficient distribution system, fueled by the government and aid organizations. Food is distributed to remote areas, or money is transferred by mobile phone.
Hopes are now pinned on the upcoming rainy season in April. But again the weather forecast is not favorable. “It pains me to be the bearer of bad news at a time when millions of people in the region have already experienced the longest drought in 40 years,” said Glid Artan, director of the Intergovernmental Agency for Development and Climate Prediction (ICPAC). in December. “Unfortunately, our models show with a high degree of confidence that we have entered the fifth consecutive season of failed rains in the Horn of Africa.”
A version of this article also appeared in the January 2, 2023 issue