Thousands of households in four counties at the Coast are facing starvation, with the situation in Kilifi and Tana River counties worrying.
The government has warned of an impending famine caused by poor rains and harvests in parts of Kilifi and Tana River, where low pastures and the drying of wells has decimated livestock.
The government and Kenya Red Cross Society estimate that 3.4 million people across the country are facing hunger.
Reports by humanitarian agencies indicate that 129,000 people in Kilifi are facing starvation, while in Tana River, 150,000 residents urgently need food and water. In Taita Taveta, 35,000 people are affected.
According to Red Cross Coast Regional Coordinator Hassan Musa, 241,000 people have been hit hard by famine in Kilifi, Tana River and Taita Taveta counties.
“The famine is caused by shortage of rains as residents could not produce enough food. In Magarini, they were affected by insects,’’ Musa said.
Red Cross has also initiated a cash transfer programme that has benefited more than 6,000 people in Kilifi and 3,000 in Tana River. It has also initiated small irrigation projects in Baricho, Magarini sub-county, and Kinango sub-county in Kwale.
A water project in Ganze expected to serve 103,600 residents will be handed to the county government soon. The project had cost Sh125 million - Sh75 million from KRCS and Sh50 million from Kilifi county government.
In Magarini, there were only four water pans out of 25. The rest have dried up due to drought. Weather officials hope there will be rains by the end of March in Kilifi but feel the situation could be worse by then.
According to County National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) coordinator Adam Kheri, Kilifi’s alert levels are comparable to Kajiado County, which is at an alarming stage.
“Alert can either move to early and late alert to alarm. We are stressed in good classification which means we can either go back to normal or move to the second face which is alarm,“ Kheri told Sunday Standard yesterday.
Food scarcity in Kilifi is largely due to poor rains witnessed in the last season.
“Although the last rains were more than we expected, this does not imply that we have enough food. The rains were not consistent for a long time and this could not support and sustain crop production in many parts of the county,” said Kheri.
He called for a proper assessment of Adu in Magarini and parts of Malindi, which he said are most likely to be affected.
“The population at risk is as high 30 to 36 per cent. Pastoralists from Tana River are moving their livestock to Kilifi and have consumed all the water at a lone water point for Kilifi residents and the dam is now dry,“ he said.
On Thursday, Devolution and Arid and Semi-Arid Areas (ASALs) Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa said schools had been closed in Tana River and Kilifi because of drought.
“The situation is deteriorating in Tana River, Kilifi, Lamu and Taita Taveta counties. Today we will start to distribute relief food in Tana River,” Wamalwa said yesterday in Mombasa.
Wamalwa said the government will also start water trucking services in these areas to avert outbreak or spread of water born diseases in Tana River and Kilifi.
In Tana River, three people have died and tens others hospitalised following an outbreak of Cholera due to lack of clean water, county officials say.
“It is true there has been an outbreak but I cannot state the number of those who have died. I know of one women,” said Tana River County Health Director Dr Oscar Endekwa.
Samuel Jefwa, the County Director of Public Health, said 53 people have are been admitted at various health institutions in the county after they were diagnosed with cholera.
The victims were from four villages within Bura irrigation scheme.
Wamalwa said the covernment will release the three million bags of maize currently at the Grains Strategic Reserves to mitigate the effects of the hunger. “It is a must that we make sure all those affected get food and I can assure the country that no one will die because of hunger,” said Wamalwa.
He said the government will distribute relief food in Tana River and Kajiado starting today before they head to Taita Taveta and Lamu counties.
Other areas targeted for food aid are Garissa, Wajir and Isiolo, counties he described as worst hit. In Kwale, Senator Issa Juma has said some public primaryschools in Kinango and Msambweni have been closed down due to the famine in the area. “The famine and hunger situation is worse than it is being depicted or reported. Some schools have closed due to lack of water,” said Juma yesterday.
He said that some families have resorted to eating wild fruits amid fear that their livestock may die due to lack of water and pasture. Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet said about Sh1 billion was needed to provide food, water and healthcare to the affected.
[Benard Sanga, Hassan Barisa, Patrick Beja and Maureen Ongala]