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Drought in Africa talk by Karen Kilby

Below you can find a transcript of the talk Karen Kilby gave after Masses on the weekend of 19th March as well as contact and donation information for Karen and CAFOD.


I really appreciate the chance to say a little about a recent trip to East Africa I made with CAFOD. Some people I met while I was in Northern Kenya asked me to tell others what I had seen. They said “we know you hear things, you read them, and you never quite know what to believe, but it is different when you see with your own eyes”. They thanked us for coming so far to see what was happening, and they asked that we told people elsewhere. So I feel an oblgiation to fulfil their request and I’m really grateful for your patience in listening.

The people I met were pastoralists, which means they make their living herding camels and goats and donkeys. It’s a mobile way of life—they have huts that they are able to take apart and move quickly, so they can adjust to where the water and the pasture is for the herds, moving over hundreds of miles. They drink a lot of milk, eat meat from the animals, and they also sell them to be able to buy other things. The herds are also the way they hold their savings—build them up when times are good, sell animals when they need to.

There’s been a long and terrible drought going on in the area known as the horn of Africa— Northern Kenya where I was, and also Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Sudan. It’s been building for 4 years or more. Those of us who are old enough probably remember a famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s, the one that led to over a million deaths and triggered Live Aid and lots of attention on television. This current drought has been going on longer, but it hasn’t really been something we have heard about—partly because the media think that to report on poverty and hunger in Africa isn’t really news, partly because the governments in the area, for political reasons, don’t want to officially declare a famine. There’s been a lot of progress since the 80s as well, people and communities have greater capacity to survive difficult conditions. But this drought has gone on so long that it has pushed past their ability to cope. The length of the drought is generally thought to be a result of climate change.

The landscape we drove through in Northern Kenya was completely dry, parched, with not a sign of anything green on it anywhere. As we drove we saw quite a lot of dead camels and dead donkeys. Some of the camels were just skeletons, but some of them had died really recently, maybe in the last couple of days. The people we spoke to told us that they had lost their entire herds—some groups had a few goats left, but that was all. So it means they had no source of food or money, and also nothing to do. They were very poised people, with great dignity and courtesy, but they spoke of their anxiety and sense of shock.

We made a brief visit to the local bishop, and I have been thinking about one moment in that conversation ever since. He told us what he knew of how bad the situation is, and we could sense the weight of it he carried, the way it pressed on him. But three times in our conversation he said “I believe in the living God”, and once, he went on: “I believe in the living God and I trust no one will die of this”.

I keep thinking about this statement. It seems so unlikely that no one will die, because of how little help and attention is directed to the situation, and yet when I heard the bishop say it, I felt I was hearing a very moving expression of faith: “I believe in the living God, and I trust no one will die of this”.

Anyways, I guess I am speaking to you really for three reasons:

First, because when the media fails us, we have to get the message out of what is happening in other ways.

Second, to say that the support that the parish and individuals in it give to CAFOD really does make a difference. A couple of days after we came back, CAFOD had released more funds to provide access to food for some of the communities we had visited. It’s not enough, it doesn’t solve the problem, but at least for some families and villages it will make all the difference. Because CAFOD has the long term support of people like us and parishes like ours, it can act even when and where there is no media attention.

And thirdly, to suggest that if or when your situation allows it, you might consider giving to CAFOD’s World Food Crisis appeal, or to any other agency that has an appeal relating to the crisis in East Africa. It’s not in our news, we don’t see and hear about it the way we have with the war in Ukraine and the earthquake in Syria and Turkey, but it is very real and very scary.

Thanks again for your attention.


If you’d like to be in touch with Karen, her email address is

For CAFOD’s appeal for this crisis, see here.

Karen will speak at St Cuthbert’s parish at 7PM on 30 March: “On Cafod and Camels: theological reflections on a recent trip to East Africa”



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