Food insecurity a slow-burning emergency now

President William Ruto flag off food relief aid at State House to mitigate effects of drought in 23 Counties on September 26, 2022. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Given President William Ruto’s populist rhetoric during the campaigns, one would have expected his administration to treat the ongoing drought and associated food insecurity as an existential national emergency.

Over the last two years, Kenyans have died of hunger or lost their crops and animals to drought.

Countless children will be stunted for life due to chronic malnutrition. It does not matter how much “development” happens in the rest of the country.

We will only be as “developed” as our ability to guarantee humane living conditions for all our citizens – regardless of their income level.

This week it emerged that, despite the photo-ops flagging off food aid, many of those in need are yet to receive help.

Sometimes this has happened because of simple bureaucratic holdups and inefficiencies.

Other times it has been due to real logistical challenges.

Given the costs associated with any further delay, the government should redouble its efforts to reach all those that need assistance.

The current crisis is also a call to establish a more formal social protection mechanism to reach households.

As things stand, our social assistance policy largely relies on bureaucrats to identify needy families or be forced by circumstances or lobbying to help the needy.

It might be beneficial to rethink this model to keep track of all potentially needy families on an ongoing basis. Community based organisations, religious groups, or schools might be one way of doing this.

The deeply social aspects of social protection should be reflected in the design of assistance programmes. It is often too late when people are already dying of famine or households going for days without food.

We can avoid this problem by having a comprehensive national programme through which we can reach all potentially needy households on an ongoing basis.

It is still early days, but it would be ominous if the Ruto administration normalised the idea of Kenyan deaths from famine like his predecessor did. In the language of the times, no hustlers should go hungry!

The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University