The Oklahoman

Jill Biden sees Africa drought up close

First lady urges other countries to send aid

- Darlene Superville and Evelyne Musambi

LOSITETI, Kenya – U.S. first lady Jill Biden got an up-close look Sunday at the historic East Africa drought as she walked along arid land and listened as some Maasai women described how their children and livestock are going hungry. She appealed for more countries to join the United States to help alleviate the suffering.

Some areas of the Horn of Africa have endured five consecutiv­e failed rainy seasons, meaning there was no rainfall or an insufficient amount to help farmers with their crops and livestock. An upcoming sixth rainy season, beginning in March, is expected to be about the same or worse.

Biden, who was on the final day of a five-day visit to Africa, toured an outreach center in the town operated by World Vision with support from UNICEF and the World Food Program. She chatted with people who had brought their children to be screened for malnutriti­on and she participat­ed in a discussion with a group of women, including a mother of 10 children, who shared their stories.

“They talked about how their livestock are dying. Obviously, you can see the drought here, how bad it is,” the first lady told reporters afterward. “The one source of water here feeds 12 villages and each village has approximat­ely a thousand to 1,200 people.”

“So they are coming here, the people are coming to get water, they’re bringing their livestock to get water. But unfortunat­ely, for many of them, the way they make their living is from their livestock and for most of them, the livestock are dying, so they’re having a hard time,” she said.

Biden noted that the United States has provided 70% of the money sent to the region to help alleviate the suffering, “but we cannot be the only ones.”

“We need to have other countries join us in this global effort to help these peo

ple of the region,” she said, adding that the drought was competing with humanitari­an efforts tied to Russian’s war in Ukraine and an earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people in Turkey and Syria. “I mean, there are a lot of competing interests but, obviously here, people are actually, livestock, people are starving,” she said.

Members of the Maasai community, who are predominan­tly herders, live in Kajiado county where Biden visited.

Nearly 23 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are thought to be highly food insecure, which means they do not know where they will find their next meal, according to a food security working group chaired by the U.N. Food and Agricultur­e Organizati­on and the regional Intergover­nmental Authority on Developmen­t.

A Maasai elder, Mingati Samanya, 69, said he lost 10 cows during the recent prolonged dry season and struggled to find hay for the rest of his herd.

“The short rains last year were insufficient and right now we are back to struggling for pasture. We hope the long rains will be enough,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Biden sought to use her stature to help focus the world’s attention on the

worsening humanitari­an crisis in East Africa by touring the drought-stricken area near Kenya’s border with Tanzania.

On the nearly three-hour drive south of Nairobi, the capital, Biden’s lengthy motorcade passed over dry river and creek beds. Numerous cows were walking alongside the highway – many so thin that their ribs were showing.

Throngs of people lined both sides of the motorcade route at various points, waving or using their cellphones to record the event.

Some 4.4 million people in Kenya are facing high levels of food insecurity, with the number projected to rise to 5.4 million in March, according to an analysis by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification.

Already, 11 million livestock that are essential to many families’ health and livelihood have died. Many of the people affected are farmers who have watched their crops wither and die, and their water sources run dry.

Northern Kenya, which is arid and semi-arid and is where pastoralis­t communitie­s live, is most affected.

The country’s agricultur­e sector heavily relies on rainfall, and the meteorolog­ical department is predicting delayed rains in the upcoming short rainy season that should begin in March.

President William Ruto announced last October that his cabinet had lifted a decade-old ban on openly cultivatin­g and importing geneticall­y modified crops. The decision came amid pressure from the U.S. government, which had argued that the ban affected U.S. agricultur­al exports and food aid.

Last week, Ruto led the country in praying for rain.

The first lady has been highlighti­ng the drought along with women and youth empowermen­t since arriving in Namibia last Wednesday.

Biden had visited Kenya in 2011, when her husband, Joe Biden, was serving as vice president, to help raise awareness about what then was considered a severe famine. U.S. officials and aid organizati­ons say the current drought is far worse.

About halfway through the drive to Lositeti, the first lady traded her black SUV for a smaller one more suited for the rugged terrain ahead. The village was the final stop on a five-day, twocountry visit that took her from Namibia, along the Atlantic coast in southern Africa, to Kenya in the east.

It was her sixth visit overall to Africa, and her first as first lady. She traveled with her granddaugh­ter, Naomi Biden, who is 29.

Biden met throughout the week with young people, women and entreprene­urs as she promoted U.S.- backed programs that teach about HIV/AIDS, preventing infection and safe sex practices. Other programs she visited help people learn skills to find jobs or start businesses to support their families.

Along the way, she managed to make some news with her comments in an interview with the AP in which she gave the strongest indication yet that her husband will seek to be reelected in 2024.

Asked if the only thing left to do was to decide on when and where to announce the campaign, she replied, “Pretty much.”

The president, who later was asked about his wife’s comments, offered a more measured response, saying he had “other things to finish before I get into a full-blown campaign.”

 ?? BRIAN INGANGA/AP ?? First Lady Jill Biden, left, greets members of the Maasai community as they explain the drought situation in Kenya, Sunday.
BRIAN INGANGA/AP First Lady Jill Biden, left, greets members of the Maasai community as they explain the drought situation in Kenya, Sunday.

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