Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Salopek treks through “the hunger zone” in northern Kenya with a nomadic goat herder to get a better understanding of a region persistently devastated by famine. While describing his experience, Salopek also takes us through a history of hunger and foreign food aid:
Mister Inas then showed us a few wild plants the Daasanach resorted to during famines: the berries of the kadite bush and a gnarled tree that produced a currant-like fruit called miede. People were forgetting their use. “Today, we eat food aid instead,” he said.
At that time, the U.N. World Food Program was helping feed 265,000 people in the Turkana region. The nomads, once canny at eking out a livelihood on the gauntest of Kenyan landscapes, had been settling into ramshackle outposts, essentially rural slums, where each household received a monthly allotment of 10 kilograms of maize. They were losing what relief workers termed “famine-coping mechanisms” — their ancestral survival skills. Cutting off assistance cold was unthinkable; countless people would die. So after having helped fund these supplemental feeding programs for decades, the U.S. government, through its African Development Foundation, decided last year to put its foot down. It earmarked $10 million for a pilot program in the Turkana area that might be called aid methadone — still more aid, but this time in the form of fishponds and irrigated market gardens, all intended to pry people off the old aid.