It is a long walk from Fini village to Dadaab, the Kenyan refugee camp now the focus of attempts to save millions of people from starving to death in the Horn of Africa.
By Mike Pflanz, Fini, northeastern Kenya
9:00PM BST 14 Jul 2011
There, daily aid flights bring Hollywood stars and hand-wringing Western politicians to tour the apparent epicentre of a hunger crisis that many are warning risks tipping into a famine.
In Fini, a place so small it appears on no maps, there are no visitors.
This cluster of three dozen stick-built shacks, bisected by a sandy track rarely passed by traffic, is growing daily as more and more people trek in from the wilderness.
They are here to find help. But almost nothing has come, The Daily Telegraph was told again and again during two days in areas of northern Kenya still largely untouched by the millions of pounds given to aid agencies’ latest appeals.
No one is bringing food, or medicines, or offers to buy their few remaining goats. The little food that people have hoarded is shared around ever more mouths.
The only outside help has been water trucked in daily since December by World Vision, a British Christian charity. Those supplies end on Friday because the money needed to cover costs has run out.
“There have been droughts before, but then people came to assist us, there was food available, even the animals were helped,” said Dekow Farah, 49, an elder who arrived here a month ago with his two wives and nine children.
“Now, there is nothing. We see vehicles from the government passing by some days, but they do not stop. The situation is worse than ever. Why have we been forgotten? I cannot tell.”
In countless villages like this across northern Kenya, eastern Ethiopia and southern Somalia, the same last act is being played out in a long-developing crisis which risks accelerating to disaster for up to 11 million people.
In Fini, this is what that crisis looks like.
It is a place of the elderly and of women and children. All husbands and brothers aged between 16 and 50 have left with the few animals still alive to chase reports of rain far away that might have turned green a distant land with precious new pasture.
Among the domed huts of thatch and rags, the constant hot wind slowly entombs the carcases of goats in sand. The only vegetation lies high on trees whose foliage is poisonous.
Beneath a leafless thorn bush, men used branches as supports to lift a near-lifeless cow to its feet to shift it into the meagre shade.
The village shop, such as it is, stands locked, its shelves usually stocked with sugar, maize-flour and cooking oil now bare.
The traders who used to visit once a fortnight to buy livestock, putting precious cash into herders’ pockets, stopped coming weeks ago because the animals were so weak they would die before reaching the slaughterhouse.
On Western television screens, the current crisis appears to be one of emaciated children barely saved from death with medicines administered by aid agencies in overwhelmed refugee camps.
But in reality it is a crisis of a people who survive by drinking the milk and selling the meat of their animals â€“ their only source of food, wealth and income â€“ and whose animals are now dead or worthless.
A cow whose value last year would buy six large sacks of rice now barely covers the cost of one.
With money short and food prices soaring, stark decisions are being forced.
In Habaswein, the nearest town a long day’s walk from Fini, Fatuma Ahmed sat at sunrise frying thin maize pancakes that will be the only food she and her seven children would eat that day.
She told of how “in the dark because people don’t want others to know”, families are agreeing to give their daughters as young as 13 in arranged marriages just to earn money from the dowry.
“People are desperate, they need any money they can find to buy food,” she said. World Vision has received similar reports of these early marriages from the other parts of Kenya in which it works.
Near to Mrs Ahmed’s home, Osman Abdi was feeding his last remaining goats dried maize from a steel bowl.
“This is something we have never done before, but we have never seen a drought like this before,” he said.
While it is the most severe in living memory, the current drought is in fact the latest in a series that have come ever closer together and are forcing a change in an entire way of life.
People are for the first time choosing to settle permanently in villages with boreholes or towns with schools and hospitals, and turning their backs on living by their livestock.
Abdullahi Wardere, who guesses his age at 50, left the area his family roamed for generations and walked to Habaswein with his son and daughter-in-law and their three children.
Their hope was to find food aid from the government or aid agencies. Apart from once last month, they have received nothing.
“There is no one there where we came from, you will find all the villages are empty,” he said.
“It is time now to stop moving with the animals. They cannot survive with these droughts, and in the same way we cannot survive. This must be where we stay now.”