About six million Kenyans do not have food following a failed fifth consecutive rainfall season, a state agency has warned.
According to a report by the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), the situation is dire and calls for emergency intervention.
The authority warns things could get worse due to low rains in the next six months.
According to the report, some 2.6 million livestock have died worth approximately Sh227 billion. The authority said 32 counties are badly hit by the prolonged drought, and more people are facing acute malnutrition, which requires urgent humanitarian assistance.
"In Arid and Semi-Arid (Asal) counties, the population is facing acute food insecurity and therefore in need of humanitarian assistance has risen to 4.4 million. This demonstrates an overall deterioration in the food security situation across the 23 ASAL counties," the agency said in its January report, dubbed "The Impact of the 2022 Short Rains Season on Food and Nutrition Security."
"The nutrition status of children and women has also worsened, with 970,000 children below the age of 5 and 142,000 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers requiring urgent life-saving treatment for malnutrition. The most affected counties with critical malnutrition levels are Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera, Isiolo, Garissa, Baringo and Samburu," the report said.
An additional 500,000 people are food insecure in nine more counties, and the situation is deteriorating.
"Ongoing response interventions such as relief food distribution, emergency cash transfers, mass screening, and scale-up of integrated health and nutrition outreaches have significantly mitigated the effects of drought," the report said.
In the nine traditionally non-Asal counties studied, 495,362 people were found food insecure.
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"The population facing acute food insecurity and consequently requiring humanitarian assistance has increased to 4.4 million from the 3.5 million people identified in July 2022, following an assessment of the long rainy season. This is a clear testament to declining food security in Kenya’s 23 ASAL counties," said the report.
Parts of the arid pastoral northwest and northeast counties, as well as the southeast marginal agricultural counties of Kitui and Makueni, are in crisis, according to the report. Other counties in crisis or emergency are Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir and Garissa.
The coastal marginal agricultural counties and agro-pastoral counties are experiencing "stressed" food security status.
"Therefore, households are worse off, requiring urgent humanitarian assistance to close food consumption gaps and save lives and livelihoods," the report said.
The situation is likely to worsen during the projected period between March and June 2023, with Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa counties likely to slide into an emergency.
Depending on the performance of the long March to May rainy season, the population in the crisis phase and above could reach 5.4 million in Asal counties alone by June this year.
The most affected counties are Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera, Isiolo, Garissa, Baringo and Samburu, with malnutrition levels above the emergency.
Other affected counties are Wajir, West Pokot, Laikipia, Kajiado, Kilifi, and Kwale counties, which are now experiencing massive food insecurity and a high disease burden.
"The nutrition situation is expected to worsen further in the next 3 months as the prevailing drought persists," the report said.
The report called for a multi-sector response to counter or halt the looming downturn over the next six months.
"Households are marginally able to meet minimum food needs but only by depleting essential livelihood assets or through crisis," the report stated.
The report blamed inadequate rainfall, a fall armyworm infestation, damage to crops by wildlife, and high prices of farm inputs, which significantly reduced food availability, access, and consumption in households.
The condition of pasture and browse ranges from fair to poor and is on a worsening trajectory, which has led to deteriorating body condition, especially for the remaining cattle and sheep.
"The forage is projected to last less than two months. The situation is further compounded by conflicts over natural resources and human-wildlife conflicts, which constrain access to forage," the report said.
Poor recharge of open water sources has led to longer trekking distances for water for livestock, and the situation is likely to worsen in the next one to two months. Intensified livestock migration was also reported.
An outbreak of diseases such as foot and mouth disease, lumpy skin disease, east coast fever and anthrax was reported in several counties.