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Children hardest hit as Turkana families call for urgent help

Some of the affected families in Turkana when they received relief food. 

Nakito Matet 34, a mother of nine ponders on her next move as ravaging drought and starvation threaten to wipe out her children in Kakalel and Kangalita village in Loima sub-county, Turkana. 

The sleepy village dotted with traditional palm thatched shanties with shrubs indicates the extent of the drought impact.

The sweltering heat, accompanied by dust smoke, forced Matet and her two severely malnourished children aged nine and 10 to seek refuge under the shed of their hut.

The children weigh about 13kg. They appeared frail. Their physique and complexions appear weak and yellowish, with cracked dry skin and thin elongated legs, all signs of starvation. Their mother says the children have not eaten meaningful food in weeks and are on the verge of death because they only survive on wild fruits. The minors’ expressions are typical of the suffering and gloom that surrounds their survival.

“It’s difficult to survive this drought. I slept for several weeks with my children without food or water. My children are weak as a result of hunger; they cannot stand on their own unless they are helped,” Matet said.

Matet said the rains have not fallen in three years, disrupting their lives.

They lost their livestock due to the prolonged drought and farming along the Turkwel River, which was a source of survival for them, was halted by the dry conditions.

“During the drought season, we turned to wild fruits for survival. However, even the fruits became depleted as everyone struggled to feed their families with them. Some villagers have died as a result of hunger.” 

Echapan Kula, 40, says when the drought hit, several residents fled. Her two-year-old baby is severely malnourished.

Child malnourished

She was among a group of women who gathered at a mobile medical camp in Kang’alita where county medics assessed malnourished children. “Our children have lost weight and their health is deteriorating as a result of starvation. We have nothing to feed them. Drought wiped out our livestock, which is our source of income.”

Josphine Kasile, the area sub-county nutrition officer, said several children in the area are severely malnourished.

“We require immediate intervention because the children’s condition here is truly life-threatening,” Kasile said.

Resident Epodo Natieng, 53, is a father of seven. He says after three seasons of drought there was no more pasture for livestock. Any remaining animals like camels could no longer produce milk.

Natieng chose to send his five children to school, while the rest of the herdsboys were suffering from drought.

“This severe drought has wiped out dozens of livestock-owning families who were already living in abject poverty. The worst happened when locusts depleted pastures recently,” he said.

Natieng urged the government and development partners to channel water from the Turkwel River so that they could engage in farming, adding that the area is fertile.

“We only need water to irrigate our farms in the event of drought. We can grow food for our families. The government should build irrigation canals.”

He said distributing relief food to hungry victims is a temporary solution for families affected by the drought and that residents should look into food security projects to sustain their economic livelihoods.

Turkana Governor Jeremiah Lomorukai declared a county-wide emergency response in drought-affected areas. He visited Kakalel and Kangalita to help families and distributed relief food in Lobei Kotaruk ward in Loima sub-county.

Crisis proportions

The county chief said the drought was severe and requested assistance from the national government, development partners, and other humanitarian organisations.

“We have brought a small consignment of food to assist the most affected families. We plan to provide additional assistance to communities throughout the county. 

“The drought has reached crisis proportions, affecting nearly 800,000 Turkana residents, with the Global Acute Malnutrition rate rising to 34.8%,” the governor said.

Lomorukai said he had met partner organisations in Nairobi to mobilise additional resources. He cited the World Food Programme, Unicef, World Bank, and the Danish and American embassies.

President William Ruto was scheduled to visit Turkana this weekend to coordinate national government relief efforts, the governor added.

President Ruto, according to the county boss, has donated 400 bags of relief food and animal feed support. The county had budgeted Sh300 million for emergency relief support this fiscal year, and the procurement of relief food has started, the governor said. The Department of Health and Sanitation provided treatment and nutritional supplements as part of the emergency drought response. Governor Lomorukai directed the Department of Health to monitor the affected families and provide treatment and nutritional supplements.

Jeremiah Namuya, county executive for Public Service, Administration, and Disaster Management, urged county officials, including village and ward administrators, to be proactive in relaying information to the government in order for prompt intervention.

Assistant County Commissioner Dominick Kinyanjui said relief food from the national government was on its way and would be delivered soon. To support the county government’s emergency relief efforts, the WFP has pledged to scale up its drought response plans.

Continued support

WFP country director Lauren Landis, speaking at a meeting in Nairobi last week, said the organisation will continue to support the county in disaster response and resilience programmes.

“Our journey for the next year will be to figure out how to keep the response going, and I want to assure you that Turkana is one of the counties where, whether it is drought, resilience, or climate adaptation, we will not be leaving. We’ve been there for 20 years, and we might be there for another 20,” she said.

According to the country director, WFP is assisting the county’s drought response through a Sh451.9 million cash transfer programme that benefits 11,597 households, each of which receives Sh6,500 every month for six months.

Every month, she said, the programme injects Sh75 million into the Turkana economy. To avoid duplication of effort, the County Steering Group coordinates the programme. Landis said the organisation had formed a rapid response team to spearhead the mobilisation of funds, personnel, and equipment.

Landis said WFP is distributing nutritional supplements through 211 health facilities to reach 60,485 households, including 38,213 children under the age of five and 22,272 pregnant and breast-feeding mothers, as part of the Lisha Jamii response.

She added that the global agency had received $23 million for specialised nutrition products. WFP is also tightening the nutrition drought response by increasing supplementation and supporting county government outreaches.

Landis added that WFP is collaborating with the county government on resilient livelihoods and food systems programmes for long-term projects.

WFP also provides drought relief by strengthening the county’s Disaster Risk Management and Emergency Preparedness and Response capacity by establishing DRM committees’ capacity to respond to disasters.

The governor urged more support for the county’s efforts to tap into the vast potential of groundwater, including the Napuu and Lotikipi aquifers, which will address the county’s water challenges.