Over two million in need of food aid as drought bites in 10 counties

A herder takes water from a cattle dip in Moyale in Marsabit County where drought has adversely affected the pastoralist’s community due to failed rains. [Antony Gitonga,Standard]

Experts have warned that 10 counties are in the grip of the worst drought in recent history.

State estimates show the number of people who are acutely food insecure has risen to 2.3 million, from 1.4 million six months ago.

This has necessitated President Uhuru Kenyatta to declare the crisis a national disaster.

Thousands of livestock across the country are facing imminent death due to lack of water and pasture, this is according to the National Drought Management Authority.

The agency issued further warnings to the effect that pastoral communities could lose up to 90 per cent of their livestock by December.

Briefing the media about the drought situation, board chairman Raphael Nzomo said that over 200,000 families had already benefited from the ongoing Hunger Safety Net Programme in the affected counties.

Nzomo noted that an assessment done by the authority showed that 2.14 million people in the Asal counties are currently affected and in need of relief assistance.

“This could increase to 2.3 million if the October-December short rains are below-normal and an assessment of the drought situation indicates that it’s becoming severe,” he said.

During the media briefing in Naivasha town, Nakuru County, it was revealed that the government has released over Sh1 billion in July and August under the Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) to assist families affected by the drought.

Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting called to plan on how to help the affected families, Nzomo said that the government had identified various interventions.

“Ongoing interventions include the provision of relief food, cash transfers, water-related tracking, health and nutrition, and livestock disease control,” he said.

Nzomo said that the most affected counties were Garissa, Isiolo, Turkana, Mandera, Wajir Samburu, Marsabit, Tana River, Kilifi and Kitui.

“The poor rainfall has resulted in reduced forage and water for livestock and poor crop harvest especially at the Coast and lower Eastern regions,” he said.

He added that as per their assessment, the production of maize in the marginal agricultural clusters was below 40 per cent.

“Malnutrition among children under the age of five is also on the increase and we are working with partners to assist those affected,” he said.

During the meeting, Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa issued a Sh597m cheque to Equity Bank which would be used to support affected families in Turkana, Marsabit, Wajir, and Mandera.

“The President has already declared the drought as a disaster and we are appealing to Parliament to fast track the disaster risk management bill into law to address the current situation,” Mr Wamalwa said.

The CS added that the government under the Kenya Development Response to Displacement Impact Project (KDRDIP) would release another Sh10b to counties hosting refugees.

Hosting refugees

“Under this project, Garissa will get Sh4.2 billion, Turkana Sh3 billion, and Wajir Sh2 billion as we are targeting counties that are hosting refugees and have been affected by the drought,” he said.

Devolution Principal Secretary Julius Korir said that they had in the last two months, disbursed over Sh1b to 100,900 households in Marsabit, Turkana, Wajir and Mandera counties.

“The cash transfers under the Hunger Safety Net Programme are aimed at cushioning vulnerable households from sliding further into poverty by protecting their assets,” he said.

Korir noted that due to limited financial resources, the government and development partners could only reach around 23 per cent of deserving households for cash transfers.

“Poverty levels stand at an average of 70 per cent in arid counties meaning a significant number of families will be left out of the regular and predictable cash transfer interventions,” he said.

A report uploaded to the agency’s website shows the dismal performance of the March-May long rains seasons compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic and poor performance of the previous rains season was to blame for the current drought.

The agency projects the situation will worsen in October and December as the short rains season will be below normal.

Most affected

The most affected counties are Turkana, Garissa, Wajir, and Marsabit .

The report paints a grim picture of the nutrition situation in the above counties given the worsening food security situation.

“The malnutrition levels though within the same phase are still unacceptably high mainly attributed to poor child feeding practices and reduced milk availability for children’s diet,” the report reads in part.

But children are still the most affected, with official government reports showing that an estimated 652,960 children aged 6-59 months and 96,480 pregnant and lactating women require treatment for acute malnutrition.

Too hungry to play, hundreds of starving children in Tiaty Constituency of Baringo County instead sit by the fire, watching the pot boil, in the hope that it is only a matter of minutes before their next meal.

Unbeknownst to them, the food cooking inside the pot is no ordinary supper. It is a combination of wild fruits and tubers.

County Commissioner Henry Wafula noted that the entire Tiaty was in dire need of food.

The administrator added that 85 per cent of Baringo South has also been affected, with some parts of North Baringo and Mogotio sub-counties experiencing famine.

In Samburu County, things are not different and the situation is worsening by the day. 

Area woman representative Maison Leshoomo said the situation was dire and appealed to the national and county governments to come to the rescue of the starving families.

Antony Gitonga, Yvonne Chepkwony and Michael Saitoti