Documentary on One

One World: Catastrophe Level One

Hot, dry and dusty - the environment in Turkana in northern Kenya is harsh and unforgiving - And now, after 5 years of persistent drought, the lives of the nomadic Turkana people are under severe threat.

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Documentary maker: Nicoline Greer

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One World: Catastrophe Level One

Turkana is a county of Northern Kenya. It is about the size of Ireland and has a population of about half a million people.

With failing rains for five years, the grass is not growing, water is scarce and the goats and camels are dying.

Fifty years ago a terrible drought and famine hit the desert of Turkana. For the first time ever, the British Government, who were ruling at the time, allowed white people to enter the region to assist the starving people.

They were the Kiltegan Fathers from Ireland and a year later in 1962, the first white women ever to enter Turkana arrived - the Medical Missionaries of Mary.

In this documentary, Sisters Andrea Kelly - now 89 years old - and Bernadette Gilsenan - 78 - remember their years in Turkana. They remember the time fondly, though they always had very little food and getting water was a daily struggle.

The 2011 crisis is being compared to the devastating drought in 1960/61 - called 'Namator' in the local dialect: the year that the camels became emaciated and died.

This year camels have died and when Turkana people lose their camels, cows and goats, they have really lost everything. 95% of the population officially live in poverty. Nomadic pastoralists, they move from place to place, looking for water and grass to feed their animals.

They rely upon their animals for everything - their diet is milk and blood. A man who has no animals cannot get married because the animals provide the 'bride price'.

Since the 1960s, Turkana people have been constantly receiving food aid, some times - like now - more than others. Villages that didn't exist before, are now there because they are centres where relief food is distributed.

But all food distributed by NGOs comes through the World Food Programme (WFP). And this summer a problem with the supply of food from WFP arose.

People have either gone without food or had to share what little relief food is available.

Oxfam has been distributing cash to try to assist people in buying food, and for those who live near the huge Lake Turkana, dried fish is available as food aid.

This documentary looks at effects of the drought on the population there and how the nomadic pastoralist way of life is coming to an end for people who have been left destitute as a result of losing their livestock, and the impact that external aid has had on Turkana life.

To record this documentary, Nicoline Greer travelled in northern Turkana with Oxfam and met with Irish missionaries and lay missionaries from VMM and the Mercy Sisters

Some of the organisations that are providing assistance in Turkana:

Oxfam, VMM, Mercy Sisters, Gorta, Trocaire, Merlin, Kenya Red Cross

First broadcast 2nd January 2012.

Produced by Nicoline Greer.

Sound supervision by Mark McGrath.

Produced in partnership with Irish Aid.

Archive material from Radharc.


An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.

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