Hundreds homeless in afternoon inferno - eyewitness report from northern Kenya

 While the eyes of the world are focussed on the dramatic events unfolding in Kenya following last month's General Election, life has been quieter in a remote mission station next to the borders with Sudan and Ethiopia. But the people there, already living in extreme poverty, now face a desperate crisis - after a natural disaster destroyed everything they owned. Father Albert Salvans, a priest from Westminster Diocese working with the St Paul's Missionary Community in Turkana has sent this dramatic report. As if the scorching sun, the dry spell, the lack of basic amenities and the attacks from neighboring tribes were not punishment enough, the villagers of Koyasa, in the northwestern part of North Turkana District near the border with Sudan, were subjected to a horrendous afternoon last December 21st when fire broke out in one of the many and closely-knit manyattas, razing more than 86 of them to the ground, almost half the village. The 2 pm blaze is said to have been triggered by a firewood stove used by one of the villagers in her hut. Fueled by the strong and dry winds, the flames soon licked the neighbouring shacks, igniting a furious inferno that lasted eons and would stubbornly not subside. When the ashes had settled, almost literally, there was nothing left to salvage in half the village that was burnt. Victims of this calamity could not even begin to count their losses, as all is of value to them and counts so much in their daily living. Many claim to have lost their food, while others had lost other valuables like clothes and money. One of the victims interviewed at the scene said that she had kept all her life-savings; some two thousand shillings, in a tin inside her manyatta, but the fire was so rapid that she could not salvage it. A quick glance at the aspect of an aluminum cooking pot shows the resilience of the blaze. Luckily, no serious injuries reported as only one small boy got scalded on the face. Other villagers had to pull down their shacks to prevent the fire from spreading even further. The situation of the people in villages like Koyasa is like a time-bomb ticking away towards explosion. Due to the many attacks they have been subjected to in the hands of the neighboring tribes, they have resorted to living in fortified villages; the disadvantages being the lack of sanitation, closely congested so that in case of any outbreak like measles or cholera, there will be no chance of people escaping, especially the children. This is besides an imminent disaster like the fire yesterday, which left more than five hundred people homeless and deprived of their property. Given the climatic conditions in Turkana District, the people have constantly relied on relief food for their subsistence. The fire yesterday did not spare even the food they had kept and now they are resorting to begging and relying on handouts from other neighbouring communities, as well as the sure help from the Catholic Church; the Diocese of Lodwar, which immediately sent a fully loaded tractor with food stuffs and other essential supplies. Residents from Turkana Central District and parishioners of St Augustine's Cathedral have also responded generously to this emergency in the spirit of Christmas. If you would like to make a donation to the work of the St Paul's Missionary Community please visit:

Share this story