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Turkana North, Kenya: One of the Worst Humanitarian Disaster You’ve Never Heard About

MARCH 16, 2017
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Turkana North, Kenya: One of the Worst Humanitarian Disaster You’ve Never Heard About

As the only NGO with a permanent presence in many of the remote areas of northern Kenya, World Relief CEO Tim Breene reports on how no significant rainfall in over 18 months has created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

TURKANA, KENYAFrom Turkana County, Kenya—a remote and often forgotten region of Eastern Africa near the border of Ethiopia—CEO of World Relief, Tim Breene, has spent the last week meeting with local churches, pastors, government officials, and World Relief humanitarian workers to personally assess the dire situation on the ground. Unfortunately, the visiting World Relief team quickly discovered the reality was far worse than the reports.

“The Kenyan Government estimates that three million people in Kenya are now in need of food assistance and that this number will be four million in April. According to government estimates, Turkana—and especially the north where we are working—is the most severely impacted. It is also the hardest to reach because it is so remote,” says Breene.

With temperatures often hovering above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a region that normally experiences two rainy seasons per year has not received any significant rainfall in over 18 months. The lack of precipitation combined with sweltering heat has resulted in the death of 60-80% of the region’s livestock—the largely pastoral population’s main source of food.

“We’ve visited many villages and one of the first things we observed is that the livestock has been decimated,” says Breene. “Locals often say that when the livestock dies, they know that they are next. This is one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the world, and these people are largely forgotten.”

Livestock is what safeguards Turkana communities from starvation, especially in the dry season, but 18 months without significant rainfall has brought the people to a breaking point. “The world needs to know just how desperate the situation is here so we can effectively mobilize an international humanitarian effort and avoid an even more catastrophic result,” said Breene.

“The government is doing all they can to help, but they simply don’t have the resources to meet the demands for food aid in Turkana and other parts of Kenya,” adds Breene. “It’s urgent that we equip local communities and churches to care for the sick and malnourished, especially the children. As the only NGO with a permanent presence in the many areas of the region, we’ve developed a network of churches, pastors, community leaders, and volunteers that can distribute emergency food supplies at the most grassroots level possible. We just need the resources.”

Active in the region for more than six years, World Relief has partnered with Parkland Baptist Church in Nairobi along with U.S. partners Wheaton Bible Church and Cornerstone Church. “World Relief has coordinated the efforts of multiple local churches and humanitarian aid organizations with deep technical expertise to find underground water sources, to drill wells, to develop a variety of innovative water storage and irrigation systems as well as to train local communities in desert farming techniques. These enable both diversified livelihoods and more balanced nutrition, so that the Turkana people can be more resilient and self-sufficient in the face of these periodic droughts,” continues Breene. “There are encouraging signs of progress, but the scale and breadth of this crisis exceeds the resources we can bring to bear on the ground.”

Vice President at World Relief, Christina Klinepeter, was a part of World Relief’s assessment team visiting Turkana and recounted a scene emblematic of the larger crisis. “Many of these people walk miles and miles searching for feed for their livestock, often going days between meals,” says Klinepeter. “Knowing that once an animal dies the meat goes bad, two young girls, no older than 10 years old, stopped on the side of the road and were forced to slaughter their family’s goat to save the meat. It was tragic to watch, but you could also see in that moment just how resilient the people of Turkana truly are. They have lived in this region for centuries and they are fighting, often heroically, for their survival.”

“These are highly self-sufficient people,” says Breene. “They aren’t looking for handouts, but many have come to the realization that if something doesn’t change or if outside help doesn’t come quickly, they simply won’t make it.

For more information, or to donate to World Relief’s humanitarian efforts in Turkana, Kenya, please visit:

Pictures and captions of Turkana, Kenya courtesy of World Relief are available here. For permission to use, please email Christina Klinepeter at 

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World Relief is a global humanitarian relief and development organization that stands with the vulnerable and partners with local churches to end the cycle of suffering, transform lives and build sustainable communities. With over 70 years of experience, World Relief works in 20 countries worldwide through disaster response, health and child development, economic development and peacebuilding and has offices in the United States that specialize in refugee and immigration services.

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