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Photojournalist haunted by documenting African famine

´╗┐Francesco Zizola, NOOR, writes:

In 2009, when reporting from Southern Ethiopia, I promised myself never to cover another famine. Bearing witness to the death of thousands of people, children for the most part, had worn me out. It’s hard to look at pictures like these, but for me they are especially hard to take.

There’s always the risk of falling into the stereotype of an African body – of a child in most cases – worn out by hardship and despair. In the Western countries we are aware of what is happening in Africa, but our souls of privileged citizens are hardly touched by these photographs. For me it’s different, I bring those images and that suffering inside of me for a long time afterwards. They haunt me at night.

Francesco Zizola / NOOR via Redux

In the Lake Turkana area of Kenya, nomadic herdsmen are hit hard by a year-long drought that is creating famine in the area.

The alarm on famine launched this year pushed me to approach the subject once more. The causes of the present crisis have been ascribed in large part to climate change, a topic I have been working on for some time with my colleagues at NOOR.

I took the decision to give it a second try and set off for Northern Kenya, avoiding places besieged by the media circus, like the Dadaab refugee camp, near the border with Somalia. In North-western Kenya, between the Sudanese border and the Ethiopian border, the drought has been claiming many lives among the agro-pastoral communities of the Turkana people, who inhabit the region around Lake Turkana. As I am told, the drought is affecting only part of the region, but such unevenness has triggered another tragedy: livestock-rustling.

Communities badly affected by the drought start looking for new pastures for their goatherds, camels or cattle, attacking and trying to uproot the communities already settled in the occupied areas. It’s a desperate fight for resources, which respects no law and no border.

Luckily, I didn't witness any deaths in the central Turkana district, where I spent nearly two weeks. The drought is severe. Rainfalls have failed for over a year in some areas, in others for five.

Thanks to their nomadic character, the tribal communities living in the region are succeeding in rescuing their livestock, upon which their own survival depends. Unfortunately only the strong can flee from the drought, leaving the weak behind, like children – often malnourished – and the elderly. The survival of the weak is the real emergency. (Translated by Valentina Tordoni)

View more of Zizola's images from northern Kenya.

See more coverage of the drought and famine hitting the Horn of Africa.