Thousands at risk of starving as drought bites in arid 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]

Frail children, emaciated elderly men and drained women paint a grim picture of the drought-hit Tiaty constituency in Baringo County.

Most men have left the villages in search of pasture and water for their livestock.

A spot check by The Standard revealed that the men have driven hundreds of animals further afield to save them from hunger.

According to government statistics released last November, water levels in most sources are below normal.

Reuben Nyangaluk, a resident of  Ripkwo ward, says the situation has been worsening by the day, with little or no government intervention.

“We don’t have food and our livestock do not have pastures. Water is a problem. What are we supposed to do?” he says, trying to explain why women, children and the elderly are the only ones left to suffer hunger pangs in the villages.

He further reveals that school going children cannot attend classes as their parents and guardians have been forced to shift to other places in search of food, water and pasture.

At Riong’o village, Jepkor Lorimoi stares at a mound of stones and dry shrubs some 50 metres from her compound.

Her home, a dilapidated structure, whose rafters are almost falling, reveals the levels of poverty in the area.

She looks frail as she holds her crying five-year-old malnourished daughter in her arms.

The scorching sun is making it worse for them as they try to shelter under an acacia tree.

The mother of four says her children have missed school due to lack of food, as they are forced to trek for miles in search of water.

“I’m trying my best as a mother so that my children get something to eat but the situation is getting out of hand,” Lorimoi says through a translator.

Her husband is among the men who have driven off with livestock in search of water and pasture and all that is left for the family is to wait for help from well-wishers or State agencies.

The devastated Lorimoi says two of her cows have died due to drought.

She hopes the rains will fall soon, noting that will solve half of their problems.

A few metres from Lorimoi’s home, we meet Martha Lomul, a mother of nine, who solely depends on her daughter who has been married to a well-off man at the nearby Chemolingot trading centre.

Lomul says that as much as she is ashamed of borrowing from her in-laws, the state her family is in has taken away their dignity.

The National Drought Management Authority in its report last November indicated that the county had received below-normal rains and water levels in most water sources were also below normal.

The report further revealed that children under five years were at risk of malnutrition if the drought continues to ravage the regions.

Last October, Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa launched a food distribution exercise where some 3,000 bags of rice and 3,000 bags of beans were given to starving residents of Mogotio, Baringo South, Baringo North, Baringo Central and Tiaty sub-counties.

Baringo County Commissioner Henry Wafula said the ongoing drought has caused conflict within the county as herders from Tiaty have crossed over to North Baringo and neighbouring communities in search of pasture.

“The drought is severe. We have informed the Office of the President concerning the same. We are also requesting the governor to assist through a disaster kit as we fight this hunger,” said Wafula.  

He added that no deaths have been reported so far but they are yet to contain the situation even as they wait for the Ministry of Devolution to intervene.

The commissioner further urged Tiaty herders to negotiate with elders from neighbouring communities for pasture to avoid conflicts.

He noted that the areas affected are the larger Tiaty, Baringo South, Mogotio and Kisanana.

But the situation is still dire in the neighboring Samburu County where more than 150,000 people are in dire need of relief food.

Women and children below five are the most affected after men migrated with livestock to different areas including Malaso, Baragoi, Isiolo and Laikipia County in search of water and pasture for their livestock.

Most of the traditional water pans have dried up.

“We are just stepping on barren land, there is no grass,” said Emanuel Leleruk, a village elder Nakoroni village in Samburu East.

Leleruk said women, the elderly and children aged five and below are most affected by hunger.

Samburu North MP Alois Lentoimaga has urged the national government to distribute water, relief food and launch a cash transfer programme as soon as possible to cushion people affected by hunger in the region.

Lentoimaga also wants the government to rehabilitate faulty boreholes in different areas of the county.

Springs of Hope Orphanage Manager Grace Nyambura said that the number of children at the institution has increased due to drought as parents migrate in search of pasture and employment.

County Commissioner Abdrizak Jaldesa said a timetable has been drawn for supply of water to schools and trading centres in drought-hit areas. Jaldesa said the situation is deteriorating in Samburu North, Samburu East and Samburu Central sub-counties.

“The county steering group committee has already made its report. Pastures are diminishing and functional water sources, including dams and boreholes, are becoming fewer,” he said.

Jaldesa said his office is working together with other partners to ensure that people are cushioned from the effects of drought.