New Zealand responds to Horn of Africa drought

In 2011 the worst drought for 60 years across the Horn of Africa destroyed crops and left people and livestock dead. Across Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti, millions of people needed immediate assistance. In response, the New Zealand Government provided a package of assistance totalling almost $6 million to the World Food Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross and four New Zealand non-government organisations. This funding enabled agencies to deliver food, water and integrated assistance programmes to the people most in need.

Summary of New Zealand’s funding

$1 million shared between Childfund, Caritas, World Vision and Oxfam.
$2 million to World Food Programme (WFP)
$3 Million to International Council of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Jenny Wells, a Development Manager in the Humanitarian and Disaster Management team at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has recently returned from Africa where she saw first-hand how some of New Zealand’s aid was making a difference to the lives of three families in this vulnerable region.


Lemayian is three and lives with his mother and two brothers in a Masai community in rural Kenya. I met Lemayian as he sat down with a container of porridge for his morning tea – his first real meal of the day. 

Each day he walks to school with his older brother, Nkookoi, who is six, and their mother who carries their younger two year old brother. They walk three kilometres each way taking about an hour. Lemiyian and his younger brother attend the ChildFund supported Early Childhood Care and Development Centre while Nkookoi attends the adjacent government primary school.

Both boys, like many children across Kenya, benefit from school feeding programmes supported by  organisations like ChildFund in coordination with the Government of Kenya. The boys receive two meals each day at school and the meals supplement general food distributions to communities by the United Nations and the Government. 

Before the drought, the family had six cattle but all died after the family could not buy food or access water for them. Lemayian’s dad soon left to work as a watchman in Nairobi and now is able to send a little bit of money home.

Without the food support, Lemayian and his brothers would not be able to attend school. They would have to work herding goats or cattle to earn what money they could for the family. ChildFund is one of four New Zealand NGOs that the New Zealand Aid Programme has provided funding to in response to the drought in the Horn of Africa.


In Ethiopia I met Zumzum (pictured) an 11 year old who helps look after her younger niece, Mahbooba. They live in Shashemene in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. Oromia was the region hardest hit by the recent drought. After school, Zumzum takes over tending the family’s small plot of land from her father. She takes  her responsibility for keeping wandering goats away from their potatoes crop very seriously. The family has ¼ acre plot that is now irrigated with the support of World Vision. A nearby spring has been tapped and community labour has built an irrigation system that brings water to nearby land plots. The spring also fills a community dam providing water for nearby households and  livestock.

Zumzum is proud of her family’s plot which now produces three crops of vegetables a year. Zumzum tells me the next crop will depend on which vegetables are getting a good price at the market. This small plot of land now produces enough to provide for the family of five year round. The family also has one cow and by selling half the milk, the family pays for the school fees for Zumzum and her two younger brothers. The water supply project is part of a larger, integrated programme that includes the provision of food, crop seeds and livestock to people badly affected by drought across the Horn of Africa.  


Seripesta is 70 years old and bringing up two grandchildren on her own. She lives in Meru district in the Eastern region of Kenya. The closest permanent water point used to be five kilometres away and each day she used to travel three times carrying five litres of water each time. She told me it was very hard and took up all her time as she was unable to carry a larger container. A water project, supported by Caritas and built by the community, has laid 10 kilometres of pipes and constructed one tank to store 50,000 litres of water.  Seripesta now has a permanent water source 5 minutes from her home and she couldn’t be happier.The water project was already being constructed prior to the drought but the drought threatened to force families to leave the community to look for food and work. As an integrated response to the drought, food rations were provided to families left without enough to eat enabling the community to continue building the pipeline.

Now, with a nearby permanent source of water, Seripesta has more time to cook. She says the whole family is eating better and they wash every day. The children are doing better at school and life is a little bit easier. The water is also supporting small scale irrigation of household gardens and enabling families like Seripesta’s to grow some vegetables all year round thus reducing their vulnerability to future droughts.

These examples show how the New Zealand Aid Programme is working with New Zealand non-government organisations and other international partners to make a real difference in the Horn of Africa. It’s estimated that between 50,000 to 100,000 lives were lost between April and August 2011 in the Horn of Africa, more than half of them children under the age of five. Hundreds of thousands more lives would have been lost without donations from New Zealand and the international community.

Back to April 2012 Development stories