Lostti (Kenya), Feb. 26 (AP) — U.S. first lady Jill Biden walked the dry land Sunday to get an up-close look at the historic East African drought and listen to some Maasai women describe the How their children and livestock starved. She called on more countries to join the United States in helping to alleviate the suffering.
Some parts of the Horn of Africa have experienced five consecutive failed rainy seasons, meaning no rain or not enough rain to help farmers grow crops and raise livestock. The upcoming sixth rainy season, which begins in March, is expected to be about the same or worse.
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On the final day of his five-day trip to Africa, Biden visited the town outreach center run by World Vision with support from UNICEF and the World Food Programme.
She chatted with people who brought their children to be screened for malnutrition, and participated in discussions with a group of women, including a mother of 10, who shared their stories.
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“They talked about how their livestock died. Obviously, you can see the drought here, how bad it is,” the first lady told reporters afterwards. “One water source here supplies 12 villages, each with about 1,000 to 1,200 people.”
“So they come here, people come to fetch water, they bring livestock to fetch water. But unfortunately for many of them, the way they make a living is by raising livestock, and for most of them , the livestock were dying, so they were having a hard time,” she said.
Biden noted that the U.S. already provides 70 percent of the money sent to the region to help alleviate suffering, “but we can’t be the only ones.”
“We need to get other countries to join us in our global efforts to help these people in the region,” she said, adding that the drought competes with humanitarian efforts like Russia’s war in Ukraine and a war that has killed tens of thousands. Deaths related to earthquake in Turkey and Syria.
“I mean, there are a lot of competing interests, but obviously here, people are actually livestock and people are starving,” she said.
Members of the Maasai community are mainly pastoralists and live in Kagado County, which Biden visited.
Nearly 23 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are considered extremely food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal will find their government, according to a food security working group chaired by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and regional organizations International Development Authority.
Mingati Samanya, a 69-year-old Maasai elder, said he lost 10 dairy cows during the recent long dry season and struggled to find hay for the rest of his herd.
“Last year the short rains were not enough and now we are struggling for pastures. We hope the long rains will be enough,” he told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
Biden is trying to use her popularity to help the world focus on a worsening humanitarian crisis in East Africa by visiting arid regions near the Kenya-Tanzania border.
During the nearly three-hour drive south of the capital, Nairobi, Biden’s long convoy drove through dry riverbeds and riverbeds. Cows walk along the road—many so thin that their ribs show.
Crowds of people lined up in various positions on either side of the convoy’s route, waving or using their phones to document the incident.
Some 4.4 million people in Kenya face severe food insecurity, a figure expected to rise to 5.4 million in March, according to an analysis by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification.
Eleven million livestock, vital to the health and livelihoods of many families, have died. Many of those affected are farmers who have seen their crops die and water sources dry up.
The arid and semi-arid northern part of Kenya, where pastoral communities live, is the hardest hit.
The country’s agricultural sector is heavily dependent on rainfall, with the meteorological department predicting that the upcoming short rainy season will begin in March.
President William Ruto announced last October that his cabinet had lifted a decade-long ban on the open cultivation and import of genetically modified crops. The decision came under pressure from the U.S. government, which argued the ban affected U.S. agricultural exports and food aid.
Last week, Ruto led a nationwide rain prayer.
Since arriving in Namibia last Wednesday, the first lady has been emphasizing the drought and the empowerment of women and youth.
Biden had visited Kenya in 2011, when her husband, Joe Biden, was vice president, to help raise awareness of what was then considered a severe famine. U.S. officials and aid groups say the current drought is much worse.
Halfway to Lositeti, the first lady traded her black SUV for a smaller SUV better suited to the rough terrain ahead. The village was the final stop on her five-day two-country tour, which took her from Namibia on Africa’s southern Atlantic coast to Kenya in the east.
This is her sixth trip to Africa and her first as first lady. She was traveling with her granddaughter Naomi Biden, 29.
Biden met with young people, women and entrepreneurs throughout the week as she promoted U.S.-backed programs that teach about HIV/AIDS, infection prevention and safer sex. Other programs she’s visited help people learn skills to find jobs or start businesses to support their families.
Along the way, she managed to make some news with her comments in an interview with the AP in which she gave the strongest indication yet that her husband will seek to be reelected in 2024.
Asked if all that was left was to decide when and where to announce the campaign, she replied: “Pretty much.”
Asked later about his wife’s comments, the president gave a more measured response, saying he “has other things to get done before I start my full campaign.” (Associated Press)
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