Kahaso Wakatondo, 86, drinks water a Good Samaritan had given to her at her home at Ndarako village, Ganze in Kilifi County. (Photo: Kelvin Karani/Standard)
It is 1.30 pm and 86-year-old Kahaso Wakatondo is resting on a tattered mat outside her shanty at Ndarako village in Gede, Ganze Constituency.
Wakatondo is all alone after her grandsons, who used to fend her, relocated to Mombasa together with their families in the face of hunger ravaging parts of Ganze in Kilifi County.
Her story is replicated in many homes in Ndarako, Midoina, Silaloni, Samburu, Rima Ra Pera, Goshi and Mnagoni villeges where malnourished elderly men and women have been abandoned by their children and other family members.
“I had the last meal 40 hours ago. My grandchildren who used to go to the forest to get me fruits left in December with their wives,” says Wakatondo in a frail voice.
Mr Kitsau Wakatondo, 58, and a father of 17 laments, his eldest sons relocated to Mombasa leaving him and his three wives behind. Food aid has not reached them for close to a month, he said.
“The last time we received food was a month ago and it was one packet of maize flour. I’ve no option but to go to the forest to search for wild fruits to feed my aging mother,” said Kitsau.
Food prices soar as pockets run empty
His livestock was wiped out by drought in December last year. The last time he harvested maize from his expansive land was in March 2015. The crops they planted last year have all dried up.
A few kilometers from Ndarako, in Midoina, another elder, Katana Chando says he stayed behind when he two sons left for Mtwapa. He says his children occasionally send him food.
“Yes, they sat times send me food. The biggest headache here is if I move even an inch from my compound, the food will be stolen,” he said.
Other residents here depend on roots of a crop known as Mbambara, which they chew like sugar cane. Others are surviving on cactus fruits.
Locals say, humanitarian assistance has been slow and inadequate, raising fears that number of those facing starvation could rise.
“The tuber eases hunger pangs. We are struggling to remain alive,” says Mwarua Nyae. “Lack of clean drinking water is our biggest problem.”
With some families hardly affording even a meal a day, humanitarian organisations in the county are warning that the situation may worsen if food aid will not arrive in Ganze soon.
Along the 45 kilometer dusty road between Bamba and Ndarako, we find pupils in school uniforms with jericans looking for water.
“Two weeks ago, two pupils collapsed in class because of hunger. Money for school feeding programme had not reached us but we are now looking for food to buy,” said Mr Karima Tunje, the head teacher of Jira Primary School in Bamba.
He said many pupils have dropped out of schools and relocated with their parents to either Kilifi or Mombasa in search of food and water.
“Many youths in this community link any calamity that befalls them to witchcraft. They even link grey hair to witchcraft and it is no surprising they leave the elderly behind,” said Tunje.
Along the roads, carcasses of animals that have died because of lack of water and pasture illustrate the horrifying tale of devastating effects of drought.
It is the face of desperation replicated in parts of Kilifi, Tana River, Lamu and Taita Taveta counties where humanitarian organisations say thousands of families are starving.
Bamba in Ganze is the hardest hit part of Kilifi County, with children going for several hours without food, and women and children walking several kilometers in search of water.
Hundreds too weak as famine ravages region
“I have chest pains because of carrying a 20 liter jerrican of water for over 20 kilometres. My 15-year-old daughter has dropped out of school to assist me,” said Ms Mlango Munga.
At Ndarako, village the only source of water, River Voi, has dried up. Locals have now been forced to dig a borehole on the river bed to get water.
At the 20-feet borehole, 11-year-old Kavimbi Tahiri has become a heroine in the village because she is the one who climbs down to fetch water for the rest.
“It is a daunting task because I have to climb up and down to fetch water with a two kilo tin then fill over ten 20-liter jerricans,” she explains.
Kahindi Masha, a village elder, says although villagers are aware of the danger the girl is exposed to, they have no option.
“There have been claims there is a snake in the borehole but the girl still gets in to fetch the water. It is a brave act but can also explain how desperate the villagers are,” said Masha.
The Kilifi county government estimate that over 200,000 people are facing starvation in the county.
‘I only need a sip of water before I die’
“We request the government not to think about the short term solutions like food relief. We want to be empowered through irrigation farming. That is the only way to solve this perennial problem,” said Mr. John Njewa a resident of Rima Ra Pera.
Experts say adoption of the right farming practices especially irrigation could provide the magic stroke for the hunger problem in the region.