Five counties in the Coast region are staring at starvation as the country faces another cycle of famine-related deaths.
Focus will be on governors Salim Mvurya (Kwale), John Mruttu (Taita Taveta), Issa Timamy (Lamu), Amason Kingi (Kilifi) and Hussein Dado (Tana River), whose counties face the highest risk.
The five governors will be expected to come up with mitigation measures after it emerged their counties have received minimal or no rains at all in the past four months.
The situation is threatening 1.3 million lives in Kenya, according to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA). Kilifi has been identified as having the severest vegetation deficit. Kinango in Kwale and Lamu West sub-counties are also in the severe vegetation deficit band.
“One county (Kilifi) is in the alarm drought phase, while all others are in alert or normal, with a generally worsening trend,” the authority says in its October national drought early warning bulletin.
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Parts of Garissa, Lamu, Makueni, Kajiado, Narok, Marsabit, Isiolo and Samburu counties have also been hit by significant shortages of pasture and water, leading to deaths of livestock in some areas.
The drought management agency says it is preparing for a possible La Niña event, which may set up the country for more severe food shortages.
It says Garissa, Kwale, Lamu and Narok counties have a moderate vegetation deficit.
In counties experiencing moderate or severe vegetation deficit such as Garissa, Narok and parts of Tana River, the available pasture and browse will last for only one month, or even less.
In the ranching zone of Kilifi, the pasture has already been depleted.
Water sources are also under significant pressure. For example, 90 per cent of pans and dams in Moyale, Turbi and Saku areas of Marsabit are already dry.
Rain forecasts show that the next season is going to be worse, with short rains expected to fall below average and late.
The agency warns that this will make the drought situation significantly worse, with impacts on health and nutrition, household purchasing power, and security.
“The implications of a poor season are particularly worrying for the marginal agricultural counties which are short rains-dependent,” NDMA says in the bulletin.
The drought agency notes that the situation is being worsened by conflicts in some counties.
“The food insecurity situation is exacerbated by conflict in some counties, the most serious case in the previous month (September) being along the borders of Isiolo and Garissa, where pastoralists’ convergence is common,” the report notes.
The drought is set to disrupt national examinations in the affected areas.
Reports indicate that learning has already been disrupted with several schools in Ganze and Magarini areas of Kilifi County and are on the verge of closing down due to absenteeism.
The average return distances to water for both households and livestock are also increasing.
This becomes the latest round of starvation to rock the country, in a trend that has always got Government agencies flat-footed despite early warning signs.
The country seems not to be learning from the past experiences where its vulnerability to droughts has had devastating impact to human life.
For example, the overall effects of the 2008-2011 drought were estimated at Sh968.6 billion which includes Sh64.4 billion for the destruction of physical and durable assets and Sh904.1 billion for losses in the flows of the economy across all sectors.
Livestock production indicators have also been worsening. The production falls have been steeper in some counties than normal.
For instance, in Isiolo, milk production fell by 42 per cent last month and is now half of the long-term average (LTA).
In Kwale, milk production fell by 41 per cent last month and is now 60 per cent of the LTA.
And in Tana River, milk production fell by 58 per cent and is now only 17 per cent of the long-term average.
Drought-related livestock deaths have been reported in Garissa, Kilifi, Kwale and Lamu.
In Garissa County, there are cases of unusual premature and still-births in Ijara, which is particularly affected by livestock disease. Livestock deaths in the county are also linked to dehydration.
In Kilifi, there have been reports of a significant number of livestock deaths in Kaloleni and Ganze while in Kwale, about 90 cattle deaths have been attributed to water shortages.
The Lamu County livestock deaths have occurred in the agro-pastoral livelihood zone while in Tana River, mortality rates are estimated to be 5 per cent of cattle and 3 per cent of sheep.
The drought has seen prices of livestock start to drop as farmers compete to dispose them of before they are all dead.
Sharp falls in prices have been noted in Mandera, Meru (North), Tana River, Wajir, Kitui (cattle) and Nyeri (cattle).
Children under five are set to be the worst affected by the shortage of food, with malnutrition levels increasing.
The agency says it has activated drought contingency plans in seven counties and is supporting all counties to coordinate their response and plan for a possible La Niña event.
The agency is asking for immediate activation and implementation of drought contingency plans in areas currently affected by drought conditions, in order to protect communities from further stress.
The Government says it released Sh250 million to the State department of Special Programmes for emergency relief food in August to help deal with the situation.
The NDMA says it has released to the affected counties Sh54 million for intervention in livestock, education, water, health and nutrition and conflict management.