The stench of death from drought will choke us

FAO Deputy Director-General Beth Bechdol together with colleagues and locals in Moyale, where she visited to assess the drought situation in Kenya. [Standard]

Images of carcasses and starving animals in Kenya’s Marsabit are traumatizing. The stench of death is choking.

Residents, unable to bury the dead livestock in some of the county’s hotspots, are barely surviving, as their sources of livelihood have been snatched by drought.

They wait for food and non-food aid. Calls for aid by desperate local leaders are not yielding enough to quench the thirsty and feed the hungry in the vast county. Instead, more problems abound, in spite of science-based early warnings.

Towards the end of 2021, the UN’s ReliefWeb had shown a worrying trend, with little or no rainfall in parts of Marsabit.

The resulting socio-economic impacts have been devastating. Migration of livestock to greener pastures have not helped; there is no pasture in the first place.

At least eight per cent livestock mortality rate and increased morbidity have been reported.

For the people, who have suffered for three years now, food security is at its worst, with increasing prices and reduced milk production, exposing the population to malnutrition and increased hospitalisation in a county whose medical facilities are not the best.

These may yield more problems, including trauma and insecurity – even cross-border – as everyone wants to grab any little food, pasture and water.

The region will remain marginalised, even with devolution, for as long as a huge chunk of its budget goes to climate-related needs.

And with the national examinations coming in less than a month, children in schools will not be at their best. Some have dropped out.

The problem is not unique to Marsabit. The UN’s World Food Programme is seeking $327 million to assist 4.5 million people facing hunger in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. In Kenya, 2.1 million people face hunger.

With the National Drought Management Authority in place; the livestock should have been bought or taken from the residents of Marsabit in good time, fattened and returned later.

The water issue must not be left to NGOs, and food aid from the government must come more frequently, even as it seeks longer-lasting solutions.

Since the early warning systems are backed by science and are there to help plan and act, no one deserves to suffer to the extent Marsabit is.

Not at a time, the atmosphere in Kenya is saturated with political campaign money, yet parties’ manifestos do not exhaustively indicate how they will deal with climate change and prevent such losses.

Again, drought-stricken counties and the national government must enhance joint efforts to respond to the calamity, mobilise funds to forestall likely clashes over scarce crucial natural resources and human deaths, even as the fight for Africa’s climate-induced loss and damage compensation by the biggest contributors to global warming escalates at this year’s COP27 in Egypt.

The writer is an editor at The Standard [email protected]