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Starvation continues to stalk millions of Maasai in Kenya

EDITOR’S NOTE: World Hunger Sunday is just around the corner: Oct. 11. With the burgeoning hunger crisis in Kenya, the need for compassionate giving is great. Will you mobilize your church to help? Resources for observing World Hunger Sunday are available at www.worldhungerfund.com.

NAIROBI, Kenya (BP)–Starvation continues to stalk millions of Maasai people in Kenya’s Rift valley, and Southern Baptists are launching a new round of hunger relief to help the neediest survive.

Almost a third of the people in Kenya’s Kajiado and Narok districts are in dire need of food, and the new round of relief efforts will stave off disaster for about 180,000 people, according to the Southern Baptist missionary coordinating the project.

“These areas of Kenya have not had rain since 2007. There simply is no grass. No grass means no food for the animals. Since Maasai depend almost entirely on their animals, some people began to die — mostly older Maasai,” project director Bob Calvert said. “Their animals were emaciated and could not be sold to purchase food, so things went from bad to worse. They could not eat because their animals were either dead or dying.”

The new food distribution project is the seventh this year and will cost $472,100, bringing the total disbursed in 2009 from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund for Kenya relief to nearly $1.1 million — a very significant drain on the fund, said Mark Hatfield, who with his wife Susan directs work in Sub-Saharan Africa for Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization.

“This past 12-month period has seen exceptionally little rain. What complicates the problem is the tribal groups, who live in what are normally dry areas, live with little to no margins in their lives for drought events. There are no reserves of either food grains or stored water to use during a drought,” Hatfield said. “Livestock, which is an essential element in a pastoralist’s life, ceases to be able to survive during a severe drought. Literally thousands of animals, which are the livelihood of the people, are dying off.”

The crisis is compounded by environmental degradation, poor agricultural methodology and corruption, Hatfield added. In 2008, a poorly conducted humanitarian survey identified no hunger concerns in the area — sending aid supplies toward other areas. While grain shipments are stranded by red tape in the port at Mombasa, inflation has sent the price of food soaring beyond the reach of poor families. The young and elderly are being left to fend for themselves while emaciated herds are taken off in search of grass and water.

The new round of relief will provide a month’s worth of maize meal and cooking oil to 29,280 families identified by church and community leaders as the poorest of the poor, regardless of religion, Hatfield said. The supplies will be distributed by 34 Maasai Baptist churches, ensuring that families know the food has been sent by Christians who care about people in need, as a demonstration of God’s love for all people.

The projects conducted earlier this year rescued people from certain starvation and impressed people because it was done without regard to religion, two Maasai pastors said.

“No one else cared for us or could help us in Kenya. There is no grass whatsoever, our cows have died, and we had nowhere else to go,” said one church leader, identified as “Pastor Elijah.” “We give thanks to the Lord and to the people who gave the food to us in our time of need. They have saved our lives.”

“We are so grateful for the food relief. It has allowed us to share the love of the Lord Jesus Christ to our neighbors without hope,” said “Pastor Jackson.” “They are amazed that we have given them food even though they are not believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

As crucial as this relief effort is, it will not be enough to sustain Maasai families until the next rainy season — if it even comes, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response.

“Areas that were basically marginal at best have missed a whole year of growing food. This has created extreme situations in which huge population areas are going hungry,” Palmer said. “They have at least five more months before the next scheduled rainy season starts, if it starts.”

Calvert asked Christians to pray diligently that there would be sufficient money to purchase the foodstuffs and provide transport and that prices will not go up on the food or diesel. He asked for prayer that the transportation and distribution of food will go smoothly and for the health of those who are involved in the project. He also requested prayer that, as soon as the food is distributed, enough rain will fall to restore the grasslands so the herds on which the Maasai depend can recover.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. Baptist Global Response is on the Internet at gobgr.org.

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