In February 2017, the Government of Kenya declared a national drought emergency, with experts saying that the long-term consequences could be worse than the drought of 2011. The arid and semi-arid regions where The BOMA Project works are the hardest hit:
> 3.4 million people have been left severely food insecure.
> 500,000 people are without access to water.
> An estimated 482,882 children require treatment for acute malnutrition.
> Communities unable to reach sustained humanitarian assistance are at risk of emergency levels of hunger, one step away from famine. (ReliefWeb)
Women disproportionately suffer the cascading effects of extreme poverty and disaster, including poor nutrition and health, as they struggle to provide for their families. Food and public health assistance are necessary humanitarian responses to severe drought, conflict or a disease outbreak. They save lives in an immediate crisis, but these short-term solutions cannot begin to address the long-term impacts of poor nutrition and its attendant health complications. Relief aid reinforces a cycle of dependence, turning recipients into passive beneficiaries. We need solutions that increase human capital development and economic output while concurrently building the resilience of families who are on the front-line of recurrent disaster zones.
“The burden and cost of inaction is high. A staggering 43 percent of children under five years of age—an estimated 250 million—living in low- and middle-income countries are at risk of suboptimal development due to poverty and stunting. The burden is currently underestimated because risks to health and wellbeing go beyond these two factors. A poor start in life can lead to poor health, nutrition, and inadequate learning, resulting in low adult earnings as well as social tensions. Negative consequences impact not only present but also future generations. Because of this poor start, affected individuals are estimated to suffer a loss of about a quarter of average adult income per year while countries may forfeit up to twice their current GDP expenditures on health and education.” (The Lancet, Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale)
The BOMA Project is driven by a sense of urgency to help families withstand crises and break the generational cycle of poverty and aid dependence. Climate change is increasing the severity and frequency of droughts in the regions where we work. Our holistic approach maps the barriers to overcoming extreme poverty and addresses them through a prescribed sequence of interventions. Building resilience among vulnerable populations, particularly among women, delivers the greatest return in terms of human capital development. Families that can provide better and various nutrition for themselves avert the crisis of poor health and its related costs. And healthy children who develop to their full potential become productive assets to society.
Helping vulnerable people forge a pathway out of extreme poverty is not just a humanitarian imperative, but an economic one as well.
“Women and children play a crucial role in development…Addressing under-nutrition in pregnant women and children leads to an increase of up to 10% in an individual’s lifetime earnings…It stimulates economic productivity and growth. Maternal and newborn deaths slow growth and lead to global productivity losses of US $15 billion each year. By failing to address under-nutrition, a country may have a 2% lower GDP than it otherwise would.” (WHO, Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health)
And a recent report from USAID, The Economics of Resilience to Drought, stated that every $1 spent in resilience building saves $3 in humanitarian relief costs.
The women we enroll are earning incomes, accumulating savings, and facing recurring adversity with confidence. Their children are healthier, better fed, attending school, and are poised to become contributing members of society.
“Now we take good food: vegetables, potatoes, kale, fruit, beans. We never had enough money to buy these things. Now we can. This business has opened my eyes. We can have good food. My children do not go to bed hungry.”
Natepa “Fatuma” Letaraya, Lkwasimatonyok Business Group, Laisamis, Northern Kenya
Women like Fatuma are the reason we are driven to go beyond achieving household impacts with our program. By rigorously collecting, monitoring and evaluating the multiple data points that we use to gauge our success—including measurements such as children eating two meals a day—we can constantly improve program delivery and cost-effectiveness. Bringing more transparency to the humanitarian aid sector reveals the true costs of failing to act to improve the health and well-being of mothers and babies. As we replicate our program through NGO partners, we know we can achieve high-quality program implementation at scale, ensuring the health of future generations so they can define their own paths with dignity and self-determination.
Photos: Jane Klonsky