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Recession worsens Kenyan famine

The global economic downturn makes more African children go hungry.

NAIROBI, Kenya — El Wak in northeastern Kenya is more than 7,000 miles from Wall Street, and some 4,000 miles from world leaders meeting today at the G20 summit in London.

But the children there are already feeling the pinch from the global economic meltdown. 

The global recession, the worst in decades, is taking its toll in the arid land where people traditionally live on the cattle they herd.

The cost is not felt in fewer restaurant meals, missed bonuses or defaulted mortgage payments. It is in the empty bellies, wasted muscles and stunted growth of the more than 100,000 Kenyan children at greater risk of malnutrition as a result of increased world food prices, now compounded by the global economic collapse.

An estimated 400,000 children worldwide might die of starvation due to the financial crisis, according to the international charity Save the Children. Across Africa 2.6 million children are at risk of malnutrition; that figure reaches 10.4 million for all developing countries.

"The failures in the banking system have been exported across the world, but the biggest impact is on children in the poorest countries,” says Adrian Lovett, Save the Children’s director of campaigns. 

Twelve-year-old Aftin Abdenur is one such child. Wrapped in a bright printed cloth that hangs from his skinny body, his pale eyes indicate anemia. “In the morning before school, I have a cup of black tea. At noon, I have black tea, and at dinner we eat boiled corn meal,” Aftin explains.

Aftin has seven brothers and sisters. Sometimes his younger sisters are so hungry they cry, so Aftin shares his meager dinner with them.

The impact is on both his health and his future. “When I’m at school, I feel tired and weak with hunger,” he continues. “Sometimes my vision gets fuzzy, and I can’t see the black board clearly.”

Aftin’s family used to be semi-nomadic and largely self-sufficient herding cattle and moving between watering holes and pastures. But, like many former pastoralists, modernity and persistent drought have conspired to end that way of life.

Now Aftin’s father loads trucks in El Wak and relies on an erratic wage to buy food from the market. Prices have risen and he no longer earns enough to feed the family.

“Before, the money my father earned was enough to buy us meals for the day,” recalls Aftin. “We used to be able to afford more food. We ate three meals a day: tea and flatbread for breakfast, some rice for lunch, and meat for supper.”

Fatuma Muhammad Ker, a mother of four, tells the same story. “Last year, I could feed my family on 200 Kenyan shillings [$2.50] a day. Now, even KSh500 [$6.20] is not enough.” Her children no longer have lunch.