08/30/2011 05:25 pm ET | Updated Oct 30, 2011

Sharing Loss in Marsabit: Praying for the Drought to Break

Sora Kanchora lives in the hills outside Marsabit town in northern Kenya. At 73 years old, his face shows the signs of a life of hard work and resilience. He relies on his herd of cattle for survival, moving with them from place to place in search of water and pasture. The well-being of his family is tightly bound to the well-being of his livestock, which provide meat, milk and sometimes income if they need to pay school fees or buy medicine. Sora and his wife Godana get by on very little, caring for five of their grandchildren, whose mother who died in childbirth.

Sora remembers that just ten years ago, the landsape around Marsabit town was green, with fields of maize and beans, and mango trees all over the hillsides. Cool mists frequently clouded nearby Marsabit mountain.

But all that has changed. Over the past decade, Sora says that the weather has become more and more severe and dry. Today, Marsabit is no longer green. The landscape is bleak and clouded with dust, fields are barren, and the once plentiful mango trees are long gone. For five of the past seven years, drought has blasted northern Kenya. Rains have either failed completely or have been far below normal and unevenly distributed. Scorching weather has depleted natural water sources, devastated pastures and weakened livestock.

This year, the worst drought in 60 years delivered a crippling blow to communities still reeling from year after year of loss. Today, 3.5 million Kenyans are in need of immediate food assistance, and 1.2 million people are no longer able to meet their basic survival needs.

Sora and his family are among those. He used to have a herd of 75 cattle: all but five of those have starved to death. A pile of their bones lies in a field beyond his home, all that remains of a way of life and the assets he has spent his life nurturing. He is a member of the Borana tribe -- a pastoralist community in which resources are shared in hard times. But everyone is suffering now -- and loss is all there is to share.

"We used to eat twice a day. We had meat and milk from our cattle, and sometimes millet. Now, we depend on handouts, anything we can get, and we are lucky if we can eat once a day. Many times, my wife and I do not have enough to feed ourselves and the 4 children, so we give the children the food, and we only drink water and sometimes we are eating leaves." Sora has lived through many droughts, but this one is the worst he has ever experienced.

"Before, some livestock died, but not all. This time, we have lost everything. We have no food; we have to travel all day to find water. As long as my children have food, I don't worry about myself. But my wife and I are weak inside. I am hoping for mercy from God."

Sora's wife Godana's eyes redden when she says that her grandchildren often miss school because they are too weak.

Sora says that pastoralists like the Borana people have always depended on cattle and other livestock for survival. But if they recover from this crisis, they must raise camels and goats. Cattle can no longer survive in this environment.

The next rains are not due until October. Standing outside his small home, looking at the empty "kraal" where he once kept his cattle, he says, "If there is no more rain, we are all waiting for death. That is it."

By Elizabeth Wright, Communications Manager, Concern Worldwide US.