Save pastoralists in dry counties from devastating effects of drought

A camel herder takes his herd of camels for grazing in Kalama community conservancy in Samburu county. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Each dawn in villages in the dryland counties of Kenya, women, children and men wake up disillusioned. They are never sure if they will have a meal to satisfy the painful pangs of hunger.

As other parts of our country continue peacefully with their lives, millions of people in the drought-stricken counties fight hard for their survival due to lack of rain. The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) indicated that 10 counties, namely, Isiolo, Mandera, Samburu, Tharaka Nithi, Turkana, Wajir, Laikipia, Tana River and Marsabit had passed the alarm stage in the month of September 2022.

Many pastoralist families have already lost up to 60 per cent of their livestock - which is often their only source of income and livelihood. As a result, they can no longer afford to buy food from the markets. The situation is exacerbated by the sharp rise in global food prices. Millions of lives are threatened by hunger.

We are all aware that the rains have failed in the last four consecutive seasons. As a result, 4.1 million people in northern Kenya are facing starvation and water shortages. The people's asset and heritage, the livestock and wildlife (the national heritage), is on the brink of drought disaster.

In June this year, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reported that there are now more severely food insecure people in Kenya than there were during both the droughts of 2010 to 2011 and 2016 to 2017. It added that malnutrition is also increasing at an alarming rate. At least 942,000 children under the age of five years and some 134,000 pregnant or lactating women urgently needed treatment.

Over 15 million people are now acutely food insecure across the Horn of Africa because of drought, up from 13 million at the beginning of the year. Should the ongoing rains fail as predicted and increased relief assistance efforts not properly upscaled, the number of acutely food insecure people could rise to 20 million by the end of the year.

At least 7 million livestock have died across the region (1.5 million in Kenya, between 4.6 million in Ethiopia, and 3 million in Somalia). More than 4.4 million people in Ethiopia, 3.9 million in Somalia and 3.3 million in Kenya could not access drinking water.

Ending Drought Emergency (EDE) common programme framework, the most celebrated robust ASAL institution created to support EDE investment, policy, and programming decisions, based on critical evidence generated by solid knowledge management is certainly not succeeding.

The response to the drought situation from both the national and county governments and other actors is not satisfactory in intervening in this worsening situation. The UN OCHA had capped the amount needed to respond to the highest priority needs at $180.7 million. All actors need to join hands and support the pastoralists who are feeling the heat from the effects of climate change despite contributing the least to the effects of climate change.

It is common knowledge that droughts have become a normal phenomenon in the dryland counties. According to researchers, Turkana County has experienced 35 droughts in the past 60 years, with one severe drought every 24 months. One of the reasons Kenya has not been able to come up with adequate and lasting solutions is that the causes haven't been carefully studied and considered.

The only way to find a solution to the drought problem is to fully comprehend the root cause of the drought situation before anything else. The causes of drought are related to inadequate or no rainfall, global warming, deforestation, and insecurity, among others.

Waiting for drought in order to respond to emergencies must stop. It is devastating to the country and our people. For now immediate and well-coordinated inter-agency action to save the lives of the pastoralist people and their livestock should be the top priority. The people need and deserve clean drinking water, enough water and pasture supplies are needed for the livestock and wildlife in the northern Kenya region.

Pastoralists need enough food to save them from early graves. The governments, donors, development partners, and other non-state actors need to urgently come together to ensure that people in northern Kenya do not die due to a lack of food and water. There is enough water and food to cushion every citizen anywhere in this country.

During the Mashujaa Day celebrations, President Ruto promised to inaugurate the Climate Change Council to steer Kenya's climate action through stakeholder engagements coordinated by the presidency as required by the Climate Change Act, 2016. Please make sure it is a bottom-up approach and people in the dryland counties should not be excluded or marginalised in this national initiative because it is the wearer of the shoes who knows where it pinches the most.

I urge all Kenyans and the world to hold the pastoralist peoples' hands to save them from imminent death.