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To my eye Nairobi, Kenya's capital, looks good, leafed out in tropical vegetation. After three years of drought, rains came in May 2006. And the government shows signs of doing its job. The streets are cleaner than they have been in years. Shops and supermarkets are full of food. It's hard to believe that the drought has pushed Kenya into a food emergency. Yet 3.5 million people survive on emergency food aid in Kenya, part of the 6 million people who suffer likewise in the Horn of Africa, a vast region sweeping north from Kenya into Ethiopia and Somalia. You have probably heard about this crisis. And you have probably forgotten. It is easy to forget when this emergency feels like just one more in a never-ending series of African crises. Will we be feeding these people forever?

Why do food emergencies repeat again and again in this part of the world? To try to answer that question, I ride a tiny Missionary Aviation Fellowship aircraft north from Nairobi for three and a half hours. Under the plane's nose, the rough terrain of the Rift Valley turns gradually from green to pink to tan to gray as we descend into a desert of barren, rock-creased mountains rising from empty wastes. Turkana is Kenya's northwest neck, reaching up to the Sudan border. It is a hard land without margins. If you left me out here, I could survive maybe three days.

Startlingly, a wide muddy river, the Turkwel, slashes across the plain under our wings. Tin roofs twinkle in the harsh sun. We land on a dirt runway in Lodwar, a Wild West town of wide, sandy streets and low, spreading buildings. Go half a mile in any direction, and you will be in the wild.

Desolate as it feels to me, hundreds of thousands of people consider this region home. The nomadic Turkana ...

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In the Magazine

May 2007

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