Act now to avert deaths in perennial dry spells

EDITORIAL |
The effect of drought in some parts of Laikipia and Kieni in Nyeri. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

The Drought Management Authority issued a drought alert in the arid and semi-arid counties in July this year. The counties now hard hit by drought include Turkana, Mandera, Garissa, Wajir, Baringo, Kilifi, Tana River, Kwale, Marsabit, Kitui, Kajiado and Isiolo.

By the time of the alert was issued, more than two million people were already facing starvation and needed emergency food supplies. As would be expected, the drought triggered inter-communal resource-based conflicts caused by dwindling pasture and water. The bad news is that the drought is projected to last through to November.

The average rainfall in most of Arid and Semi Arid Lands in the month of June was documented as less than 50 per cent of average rainfall, with the northern east region receiving below 25 per cent of average rainfall. ?Drought is not a new phenomenon in Kenya. But while its ravages can be mitigated by advance planning through continuous monitoring of these prone areas, it baffles that the government is often caught flat-footed. It seems like our policymakers have been completely unable to learn from past experiences and prepare for such eventualities. 

Instructively, Turkana, one of the most affected counties, sits atop one of the largest replenishable underground water reservoirs in Africa, estimated to hold 250 billion cubic metres of water.

A caring government would have exploited this resource to promote irrigation-driven agriculture. Building water pans and dams is one of the surest ways of keeping our agricultural production going.

To beat the negative effects of drought, it is incumbent upon the the government to come up with policies and support systems that will ?encourage water harvesting during the rainy season.

We can learn from Japan that has the world’s largest underground water tank which also serves as a flood diversion facility.

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