Michael Morrah: The people affected by the East African crisis

South Sudan northern Kenya crisis (Newshub.)
A girl walks in search of clean water for her family (Simon Day/World Vision)

We saw this young girl walking through the parched bush of Turkana County in Kenya. She was the eldest in a group of siblings out looking for water. It was early in the morning, but the sun was already hot. She would have walked a huge distance in the hope of finding water.

It's heart-breaking to know that this drought has forced many children to help their families find the vital resources to survive. It showed me how vulnerable children are when something like clean water, which we take for granted in New Zealand, suddenly vanishes.

South Sudan northern Kenya crisis (Newshub.)
Halima Malicha and her family survive on wild berries (Simon Day/World Vision)

Halima Malicha has never seen a drought like this in her lifetime. For the third consecutive year, northern Kenya has been gripped by drought. When the grass dried up, her husband and their seven sons left their home in search of water and pasture for their livestock. They never found any, and they finally stopped walking when their last cattle succumbed to hunger.

They live in makeshift huts opposite the carcasses of the last of their 200-strong herd. They survive eating wild berries from thorny bushes around their small settlement. The wet season has finally arrived but even now, the short rains are barely enough to fill the bottles that hang from the trees. They are desperately hungry. Her son's wife has a newborn baby strapped to her back, their future is incredibly uncertain. They have nothing else left - their entire livelihood was destroyed by the drought.

South Sudan northern Kenya crisis (Newshub.)
Seventy percent of new arrivals at Kakuma camp are children (Simon Day/World Vision)

At the Kakuma refugee camp, hundreds of children have arrived from South Sudan without parents or any family as they are sent away from the horrific war in their home country. Seventy percent of the camp's new arrivals are under 18 years old. At the camp's reception centre the massive population of children was clearly visible and crowded around us, excited to be in front of the camera. But while their smiles were full of joy to meet us, the situation they arrive in is bleak. 

It is estimated that 65 percent of children arriving from South Sudan are malnourished. A young boy we met had lost one of his legs. Many children are suffering severe trauma from what they witnessed in their journey. Here they are safe, but any opportunity they have for a future is hard to see. Many refugees remain in the camp for years, some decades. Tens of thousands of children are growing up with little experience other than war and suffering.

South Sudan northern Kenya crisis (Newshub.)
Betty Eilea with her sick baby. Her husband, brother and parents have died (Simon Day/World Vision)

Betty Eilea walked for five months across South Sudan with her two sons, and three nephews to get to Kenya. Her husband, brother, and parents were all killed. She was forced to drink water from rivers and eat plants as she crossed the country. She arrived in Kakuma refugee camp in December. I met her at the medical centre where she was taking her young boy Samuel, who had a fever and ulcers around his mouth.

Betty told me she just wants to ensure that her children grow up and get a decent education. It's hard to comprehend how she survived such a rugged journey with five children, and impossible to fathom the trauma she's feeling after losing much of her family in such a brutal civil war.

South Sudan northern Kenya crisis (Newshub.)
Herder Osman Jirimo with his remaining cattle. 115 have died. 60 remain. (Simon Day/World Vision)

The cattle looked like skeletons. Herder, Osman Jirimo believed there was fresh pasture - about a 70km walk from here. It would take him four days. He had already lost 115 cattle, and these were the 60 that remained. How much further they would last walking in the hot sun across the completely barren land, he didn't know.

His traditional way of life was on the brink of collapse, and even if his remaining cattle do survive it will take years for him to recover from the loss of that many animals. Herders like Osman are totally dependent on their animals. They are a form of currency and herding is a way of life that's existed here for generations.

South Sudan northern Kenya crisis (Newshub.)
People line up for food rations (Simon Day/World Vision)

At the Kakuma refugee camp, funding shortages meant the food rations to residents of the camp were cut in half in December. At this food distribution, people were desperately hungry. This was the first time rations had been returned to full allotment this year.

The distribution is an incredibly sophisticated but at times chaotic operation. While we were filming, refugees rushed and jostled to get in line - no one wanted to miss out. Inside the tent, each resident was given a high-nutrient corn and soya bean mix. Fingerprints and retina scans help identify each beneficiary. They also get voucher cards which they can use to get supplies at a makeshift market. This means they can make their own choices about food stocks.

The lives of the refugees here are fairly controlled, as is the delivery of food and health services. Allowing people to make their own choices at the market helps preserve people's dignity and gives them a degree of autonomy. 

South Sudan northern Kenya crisis (Newshub.)
Halima Jaldesa's 14-year-old son died in the drought (Simon Day/World Vision)

Halima Jaldesa lost her 14-year-old son to drought. Ali Huka set out into the burnt land outside his village to try and find fresh pastures for his family's starving cattle. It was the first time he had gone herding. He never returned. For eight days, 85 men searched for the boy. But they only found his body; Ali had become lost and then succumbed to the heat.

His mother says Ali loved school, but she was reluctant to say much more, still in shock from his death. With drought ruining livelihoods and putting additional stress on already poverty-stricken families, children are often required to step up and help. I've seen children as young as five years old wandering around this vast countryside looking for water and food.

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