An elderly woman is given water. Many of the elderly are too weak and sick to feed themselves or drink. Photo: Jehad Nga for The New York Times
LOKORI, Kenya — The sun somehow feels closer here, more intense, more personal. As Philip Lolua waits under a tree for a scoop of food, heat waves dance up from the desert floor, blurring the dead animal carcasses sprawled in front of him.
So much of his green pasture land has turned to dust. His once mighty herd of goats, sheep and camels have died of thirst. He says his 3-year-old son recently died of hunger. And Mr. Lolua does not look to be far from death himself.
“If nobody comes to help us, I will die here, right here,” he said, emphatically patting the earth with a cracked, ancient-looking hand.
A devastating drought is sweeping across Kenya, killing livestock, crops and children. It is stirring up tensions in the ramshackle slums where the water taps have run dry, and spawning ethnic conflict in the hinterland as communities fight over the last remaining pieces of fertile grazing land.
The twin hearts of Kenya’s economy, agriculture and tourism, are especially imperiled. The fabled game animals that safari-goers fly thousands of miles to see are keeling over from hunger and the picturesque savanna is now littered with an unusually large number of sun-bleached bones.
Ethiopia. Sudan. Somalia. Maybe even Niger and Chad. These countries have become almost synonymous with drought and famine. But Kenya? This nation is one of the most developed in Africa, home to a typically robust economy, countless United Nations offices and thousands of aid workers.
The aid community here has been predicting a disaster for months, saying that the rains had failed once again and that this could be the worst drought in more than a decade. But the Kenyan government, paralyzed by infighting and political maneuvering, seemed to shrug off the warnings.
Some government officials have even been implicated in a scandal to illegally sell off thousands of tons of the nation’s grain reserves as a famine was looming.
So far, a huge, international aid operation to avert mass hunger has not kicked in, or at least not to the degree needed. The United Nations World Food Program recently said that nearly four million Kenyans — about a tenth of the population — urgently needed food.
“Red lights are flashing across the country,” the agency said.
But donor nations have been slow to respond, and a United Nations-led emergency appeal for $576 million is less than half financed.