Drought: Over 4m people left in need of relief food

National Drought Management Authority said delayed and poor rainfall distribution affected crop production in agricultural areas, further undermining the already fragile food security situation facing most households. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Kenya’s drought situation worsened after the rains failed and farms were invaded by the Fall armyworm, leaving 4.5 million people in dire need of relief food, according to a December report by the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA).

The agency said delayed and poor rainfall distribution affected crop production in agricultural areas, further undermining the already fragile food security situation facing most households.

“The situation may slightly improve especially on environmental indicators. However, the gains are projected to be short-lived as the country heads into the normal dry spell of January-March 2022,” Rebecca Miano, Cabinet Secretary for East Africa Community, Asals and Regional Development, said in a press release.

According to the NDMA, some 22 counties in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (Asals) are facing critical drought situation while an estimated 960,000 children are staring at malnutrition with most cases recorded in Marsabit, Mandera, Garissa, Baringo and Isiolo counties.

“Out of the 22 counties, nine regions, including Kilifi, Mandera, Marsabit, Samburu, Turkana, Wajir, Isiolo, Kitui, and Kajiado are in ‘alarm drought phase’ while 13 counties are in ‘alert drought phase’,” said Ms Miano.

These 13 counties are Garissa, Lamu, Narok, Tana River, Makueni, Tharaka Nithi, Baringo, Laikipia, Meru, Taita Taveta, West Pokot, Nyeri and Kwale. Only Embu County is currently classified in ‘normal drought phase’.

The CS said the drought situation in Taita Taveta, Kwale, Garissa and Tana River counties has improved slightly due to the light showers received during the last week of December.

Cash transfers

Ms Miano said the government is doing everything it can through food relief, cash transfers, screening and treatment of malnutrition, water trucking, and provision of livestock feeds to ensure that nobody dies due to drought.

“This is the worst drought in four decades. The impact would have been worse if those mitigation measures did not work. What we need to do is to scale up, refocus and see what more we can do. Because of climate change, the drought is getting more frequent and severe, and we need to get more resilient and stronger long-term measures,” she said.

NDMA chief executive Hared Hassan said the government has disbursed Sh1.4 billion from September last year for the livestock off-take programme.

According to Mr Hassan, the money has been spent on on-site slaughter where farmers sell their animals to the government through the Kenya Meat Commission (KMC).

“We are also trying to educate the pastoralists on the need to dispose their dead animals as we give them an update on the drought situation,” he said.

Ms Miano denied claims that the government mitigation measures seem to have failed, saying they are doing the best they can to mitigate the effects of drought and pivoting on long-term measures going forward.

“The national and county governments, with support of development partners, private sector and other non-state actors, are scaling up drought response interventions to cushion lives and livelihoods of those affected,” said the CS.

She said the private sector-led National Steering Committee on Drought Response that was established by President William Ruto has played a key role in drought mitigation.

The committee, called Wakenya Tujilinde, was an initiative to mobilise resources from the public to complement governments efforts to mitigate the effects of drought.

The CS said by December last year, the committee had distributed relief food to 14,300 households in five counties in the worst affected sub-counties.

With regard to access to water, trekking distances for households and livestock have increased due to poor recharge of sources across Asal counties.

The trekking distance to water sources from grazing areas is mainly above the long-term average, with counties such as Embu, Meru, Tharaka Nithi, West Pokot, Mandera, and Marsabit on a worsening trend due to poor performance during short rainy seasons.

“Though pasture and browse conditions have improved in some of the counties, it is not expected to last long due to migration and the high concentration of livestock in grazing areas. Already, resource-based conflicts have been noted in parts of Isiolo (Burat and Kinna), Baringo (Tiaty), and Laikipia (Laikipia North sub county),” the CS said.

The report said that a multi-agency assessment of the 2022 short rainy season is ongoing to ascertain its impact on food security.

“During the month under review, eight counties reported an improving trend; three counties recorded a stable trend; and 12 counties reported a worsening trend.”

The last month’s rains recorded an alarming deterioration in vegetation conditions across counties compared to the previous month (November). The poor performance of the October-through-December short rains is being blamed for the deterioration.

Farmers, however, continued to encounter production challenges, particularly those related to high input prices for herbicides, certified seeds, and fertilisers.