Evangelical charity offers solutions to Africa’s drought

African woman pouring water into dirt
A Kenyan woman pours water into the earth in Turkana County, Kenya. |

A global Christian humanitarian organization is using its network of churches to help Kenya during one of the most devastating droughts to hit East Africa in more than half a century, the effects of which are compounded by challenges caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

World Relief, a non-governmental organization that has worked in 100 countries to bring durable solutions to vulnerable regions, is operating in Turkana County in northwestern Kenya as drought has plagued the country for 18 months.

Founded as the War Relief Commission during World War II by the National Association of Evangelicals of America, World Relief has maintained a long-term presence in the East African country since 2011, when drought and famine ravaged the region for the last time.

In an interview with The Christian Post, World Relief Kenya country director Elias Kamau said many Turkana are nomadic pastoralists, meaning they migrate with their livestock from place to place in search of of pastures.

The drought caused the depletion of many water sources in pastoral areas and 60-80% of livestock in the region died of dehydration and starvation.

“The work we’ve done there in the low humidity areas has had to do with building the resilience of those communities because drought has become a very common thing,” he said. “The pattern is not common, but droughts do happen from time to time.”

Kamau said World Relief had created more than a dozen boreholes in Turkana – narrow holes dug to locate water – and six other waterholes called sand dams. These dams store water during the rainy seasons and the water accumulates behind the dam.

The organization is also digging four additional boreholes in a town south of Nairobi called Kajiado. The country director told CP that this equates to 16 boreholes and six sand dams that World Relief has dug.

After establishing water points, the organization is helping communities in these areas adapt to dryland agriculture, a farming technique that uses the moisture stored in the soil to grow crops.

In addition to operating a country office in Nairobi with approximately 12 staff, World Relief also has two offices in Turkana, three in Kajiado and Nakuru, a region in Kenya’s Rift Valley. World Relief has about 64 employees on its payroll in Kenya, with about two dozen employees in Turkana County.

World Relief partners with churches who provide volunteers whom the organization trains to carry out outreach work and help cover more areas in need.

Church Empowerment Zones

World Relief finds areas to help by assessing the level of need. When entering an area to offer relief, the charity locates churches, inviting pastors and other church leaders to create what the organization calls a ‘church empowerment zone’.

These areas allow pastors or other spiritual leaders to work with their communities to address issues such as poverty or malnutrition through leadership development and capacity building.

“We’ve carved out a geographic area as a whole, and we’re designing it as a church empowerment zone — where we’re going to bring all of our resources to be able to see change, to see impact,” he said. said Kamau.

Since an area like Turkana is quite large, Kamau said World Relief divides these areas into smaller sections called church networks. These networks are in neighborhoods that have what Kamau estimates are about 25 churches of different denominations.

World Relief establishes a committee made up of people of various faiths who help them navigate issues in the area and act as representatives of other churches in the area. Turkana is one of three church empowerment areas that the humanitarian group operates in Kenya.

Kenyans pumping water
Two women in Kenya stand in front of a pump to get water in Turkana County, Kenya. |

“They need food now”

World Relief also imports foodstuffs such as rice, wheat and maize to feed the people of Kenya.

Kamau said World Relief was injecting money into the economy by setting up an unconditional cash transfer project to provide half a basket of food rations to the poorest families in northwest Turkana.

According to the Country Director, this area of ​​Turkana is among the hardest hit areas they serve.

Kamau identified the cost of the cash transfer project at around $650,000, adding that agronomic projects are worth around $500,000.

He praised churches in the United States and abroad for helping World Relief projects under an agreement to help the organization support specific communities for about three to four years.

“It helped us put in place the training and capacity building of the pastoralist unit and incorporate aspects of community development that public funding could not do,” Kamau said.

“It is very important that we focus on saving lives,” he added. “People are hungry. They need food now.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 has aggravated the hunger crisis, driving up food and fuel prices.

“So you have a situation where access to food is a huge, huge problem,” Kamau pointed out.

As CBS News reported on Monday, Russia’s naval blockade of Ukraine has caused global food shortages and more than 20 million tons of grain are stuck on the Odessa coast. The blockade has had a particularly strong impact in Africa, extending far beyond Kenya.

The World Food Program noted that the cost of food baskets has increased in the Horn of Africa, with prices rising 66% in Ethiopia and 36% in Somalia. The charity also warned that the number of hungry people in the Horn of Africa due to drought could rise from 14 million to 20 million by the end of the year.

Barry F. Howard