Fact-Checker: Government’s downplay of drought effects sounds insincere

Women wait in queue to fetch water from a bowser in Turkana County. Locals have been forced to fetch dirty water due to the ravaging drought in Turkana and Baringo counties. [Kevin Tunoi, Standard]
The Government has faced intense criticism over reports that several Kenyans have died from drought in recent weeks. Recently, Deputy President William Ruto defended the Government’s response to the ongoing drought, insisting the situation is under control.

“There is a lot of fake news about what is happening. We have been told that 11 people have died, but that is not true. No one has died as a result of the drought and we are working round the clock to ensure that no one dies of hunger,” said Ruto.

This is despite media reports of emaciated Kenyans with no food to eat and confirmations by county leaders, including West Pokot Governor Prof John Lonyangapuo of deaths in several parts of the country. “The deaths are there but…they have not been able to link those deaths directly to drought said National Disaster Management Authority CEO James Oduor on Monday last week, adding that the deaths have been attributed to sickness and “other issues”.

However, a look at the country’s poverty and drought statistics indicates the government is downplaying the current situation. Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics(KNBS) 2018 Economic Survey indicates that as of 2015/2016, 14.5 million Kenyans (32 per cent) are living under food poverty.

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“These individuals were unable to consume the minimum daily calorific requirement of 2,250 Kilocalories (Kcal) as per expenditures on food,” explained the KNBS in part. At the same time, 8.6 per cent of the country (3.9 million Kenyans) is said to be living in abject poverty and unable to afford the minimum required food consumption basket with rural areas recording the highest incidence of extreme poverty at 11.2 per cent (3.2 million individuals).

The counties leading in hardcore poverty and thus susceptible to drought lie within the arid and semi-arid areas include Turkana (52 per cent), Samburu (42  per cent), Mandera (38 per cent) and West Pokot (26 per cent). According to the World Food Programme (WFP), access to adequate quantities of nutrition remains a challenge to millions especially in arid and semi-arid regions which make up 80 per cent of the country’s land mass. “Malnutrition remains unacceptably high, with 29 per cent of children in rural areas and 20 per cent of those living in cities stunted,” states the WFP in part.

This means erratic rainfall leading to crop failure and decimation of livestock relied on sustenance by millions in rural and arid areas worsen food insecurity in these regions. The result of prolonged malnutrition is a weakening of the body’s autoimmune system leaving the person being exposed to sudden illness and death.

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DroughtStarvationWilliam rutoFact checker