Mary Walker: Drought ravaging Kenya

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Mary Walker

Editor's note: Clark resident Mary Walker works at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok, Kenya. The center was built in 2002, and it provides a safehouse for Maasai girls who have escaped or been rescued from female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage. Walker's updates from Kenya appear periodically in the Steamboat Today.

The Narok area, in fact most of Kenya, is deep into a very serious drought. The long rainy season of April brought no rain to this area and at that time, thousands of Maasais and their cattle were migrating to areas as far away as Mombasa looking for water.

Today, maize and wheat crops have been decimated. In an effort to put this situation into its proper perspective for those who can't grasp its impact on real human beings, I'll describe the impact of this drought on the milk that the girls use at the center for their morning tea.

The first time I visited the Rescue Centre was August 2007. At that time, the 50 girls living there made tea twice a day, splitting about 8 liters of fresh milk from a nearby dairy for the two servings. The cost of 1 liter was about 25 Kenyan shillings, or about 40 cents at that time. Today, we are only able to buy 1 liter a day from the same dairy for 35 shillings, which is now about 50 cents. How did this happen?

Typically, each cow at this particular dairy produces about 5 liters of milk each morning and about 3 liters in the evening. There are six cows milked - making about 48 liters of milk every day available to be sold, which is wonderful.

But because of the drought, food for the cows is in severe shortage - there simply isn't anything to feed them. So, these days each cow is producing about 1 liter in the morning and nothing in the evening. The dairy is now selling about 6 liters of milk a day.

We feel lucky to be able to get just one of these liters every morning.

So the dairy isn't making any money and I'm sure not paying its three employees - who have no other employment choices in this terrible economy. So they have no money to buy what they need. The economic trickle-down impact of that is obvious. And for the girls at the Rescue Centre, what was once a legitimate source of some nutrition in their limited diet is now really just a gesture in civility - no Kenyan would want to drink their morning tea black, it would truly feel uncivilized. But when in a pinch, milky color suffices. The girls use the 1 liter in the morning and then drink black tea in the afternoon. Packaged milk isn't an option at about $1.50 per liter, and is getting more expensive as the supply of fresh milk decreases.

No rain, no food for cows, no milk, decreasing nutrition ... just one example of what is happening in so many places around the world. Take a minute to think about it when you pour the leftover milk from your cereal down the drain tomorrow morning.

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