Michael Morrah: Imagine your child dying because you couldn't feed her

OPINION: She was surrounded by her children outside a hut made of mud and a patchwork of colourful canvas. They were sitting on plastic chairs and squares of cardboard, seeking shade from the harsh afternoon sun.

But the youngest member of Tiya Abdub Molu's family wasn't there. Not because she was out with her father, or being cared for by the elders. But because, at the age of just four months, she'd died. Not because of post-birth complications but because she simply wasn't getting enough food.

Ms Molu struggled to breastfeed and started crying as she explained that despite her daughter being put on an emergency feeding programme, she didn't gain weight.

The third consecutive year of drought in northern Kenya had also claimed the lives of almost all her family's cattle and goats. Their traditional means of food and income had suddenly evaporated. The nearest water point was salty and contaminated.

World Vision East Africa famine
Tiya Abdub Molu and five of her children (Simon Day/World Vision)

Hunger and uncertainty were now just part of life, as were the daily questions from Ms Molu's children, who only wanted to know when they could expect their next meal.

I'm a father of two and cannot imagine being in such a frightening predicament. My girls, aged one and three, get upset when we leave the playground or the beach. There might be a meltdown if I can't find the right dress for my three-year-old.

But there are never tears because we're out of food or water.

On my journey across East Africa, I met many young mothers who had either already lost family members or feared their malnourished children would die because they did not have the most basic necessities to survive. It was heartbreaking.

World Vision project coordinator Jarsol James talks about a "shattered generation" when referring to the plight of the region's youngest.

Jarsol James World Vision Kenya
Jarsol James is World Vision’s project coordinator based in Kenya's Marsabit County (Simon Day/World Vision)

The cattle that are now collapsing in the heat were not only a source of food and family pride, they were traded for school fees and helped ensure children received an education. There will be plenty of empty classrooms when school resumes this month.

There's another tragic offshoot to the hunger crisis according to Mr James. With so many families struggling, he says the rates of child marriage are increasing. Girls as young as 12 are exchanged for livestock. It's shocking to comprehend but sadly not unusual in such desperate times.

No wonder Mr James feels overwhelmed and under pressure. As drought and conflict ruins livelihoods, causes famine, and displaces millions, the need here has never been greater.

Michael Morrah travelled to East Africa with assistance from World Vision. Click here to donate to the East Africa Hunger Crisis campaign.