Poor rains and flash floods threaten 4.4 million lives in 21 counties, experts say


The government has described 21 counties facing a grave situation as a result of continued drought and below-average rains.

It adds that the current rains have yet to have a positive impact on production systems despite displacing 4,000 households and leaving 3,000 livestock dead in the last week of March. The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) said this has left 4.4 million people staring at death, disease, starvation, and malnourishment for lack of water, food, and treatment.

"The number of people in need of assistance still stands at 4.4 million currently following the short-term 2022 food security assessment," the authority said in a recent report, adding, "Overall, the drought situation remains grave in twenty-one (21) ASAL counties."

Acute malnutrition has also been reported throughout the counties, with 970,214 children aged 6 to 59 months and 142,179 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers currently malnourished and in urgent need of treatment.

According to the report, Marsabit and Turkana are in the emergency drought phase, while Isiolo, Kajiado, Mandera, Samburu, Tana River, Wajir, Kilifi, and Kitui are in the alarm drought phase.

"Children in Baringo, Nyeri, Kajiado, Isiolo, Wajir, Mandera, Tana River, Makueni, Marsabit, Turkana, Embu, Kwale, Meru, Samburu, Kitui, Tharaka Nithi, Garissa, and Taita Taveta counties are at risk," the report said.

In the alert drought phase

The report added that eleven counties—Baringo, Embu, Garissa, Lamu, Makueni, Laikipia, Narok, Nyeri, Meru, Kwale, and Taita Taveta—are in the alert drought phase, while two counties—West Pokot and Tharaka Nithi—are in the normal drought phase.

 According to the NDMA report, rains caused flash floods in most arid counties, threatening local livelihoods and critical infrastructure such as roads.

The analysis of the March 2023 monthly rainfall performance indicates that several parts of the ASAL counties received moderate amounts of rainfall.

The Coast marginal agriculture counties, including Kwale, Kilifi, and Lamu did not receive good amounts of rainfall compared to other clusters.

Most parts of arid and semi-arid lands are forecast to receive below-average to above-average rainfall, exposing them to diseases and a lack of food.

Parts of South East Marginal Agriculture, including Kitui, Makueni, Embu, and Tharaka Nithi, are forecasted to experience mainly near-average rainfall, with Kitui and Makueni counties falling under near-average to above-average rainfall.

The pastoral counties—Mandera, Wajir, Isiolo, Tana River, Garissa, Turkana, Marsabit, and Samburu—received good amounts of rainfall.

South East Marginal Agriculture counties (Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Kajiado, Meru, Makueni, Kitui, Kajiado, Laikipia, Narok, Baringo, Nyeri, and West Pokot) received average rainfall amounts in March.

The agro-pastoral livelihood zones of Kajiado, Narok, Nyeri, Laikipia, and Baringo are forecast to experience near-average rainfall.

The Coastal Marginal Agriculture counties—Taita Taveta, Kilifi, Lamu, and Kwale counties—are forecasted to receive near-average rainfall.

Pastoral North East (Isiolo, Mandera, Wajir, Tana River, and Garissa) counties are forecasted to experience both near-average rainfall and above-average rainfall, while Pastoral North West (Turkana, Samburu, and Marsabit) counties are forecasted to experience near-average rainfall.

Flooding risks

A good number of rivers reported flash floods, which depicts a high probability of flooding risks as the rains continue and thus, need for closer monitoring and sensitization of communities along the river belt to move to safer grounds," the report said.

Generally, the vegetation condition in March showed a slight improvement when compared to that of February 2023 due to the rains received, but the rains are expected to have a positive impact on vegetation regeneration.

"The improvement in vegetation condition is associated with the early onset of the March, April, and May (MAM) rainfall season, which has led to minor regeneration of vegetation in most counties," the report said.

Mandera and Tana Rivers were in extreme vegetation deficits, while Wajir, Isiolo, and Marsabit were in severe vegetation deficits.

Samburu, Garissa, Laikipia, Kilifi, and Taita Taveta are in moderate vegetation deficits, while Turkana, Kajiado, and Kitui recorded normal vegetation greenness.

Baringo, Tharaka Nithi, West Pokot, Embu, Makueni, Meru, Nyeri, Kwale, Lamu, and Narok recorded above-normal vegetation greenness.

The current vegetation condition in March 2023 is better as compared to the previous month, February 2023.

"The situation for each county disaggregated by sub-county is provided," the report said.

The state of pasture remained poor in arid and semi-arid counties, while browse conditions remained poor in 30 per cent of arid and semi-arid counties.

"The current pasture and browse conditions are below normal as compared to normal years, with slight improvement realized when compared to the previous month of February," the report said.

The current body condition of most livestock is below normal in comparison to similar periods during a normal year; however, there is a slight improvement compared to the previous month.

Milk production during March showed a slight improvement in trend as compared to the previous month of February in most of the counties. Six counties, including; Baringo, Kajiado, Meru, Narok, Samburu, and Tharaka Nithi, recorded an improving trend, while Makueni and Narok counties' milk production was above normal. The current milk production status is below average compared to a normal year in 20 of the 23 counties.

Maasai trader gazing at emaciated livestock at a livestock market in Kajiado County, Kenya. [Photo courtesy of Xinhua/Li Yahui]

Livestock diseases

Livestock diseases were reported in Garissa, Isiolo, Marsabit, Samburu, Tana River, Baringo, Turkana, Kajiado, Kilifi, Meru North, Narok, and West Pokot. The diseases included contagious caprine pleuropneumonia (CCPP), contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP), pest petis ruminantes (PPR), and foot and mouth diseases.

Most of the counties (73 per cent) had cattle prices below normal. The current cattle prices are below normal in most of the counties in comparison to similar periods during a normal year; however, an improving trend has been noted across some counties, including Embu, Isiolo, Kajiado, Laikipia, Marsabit, Meru, Narok, and Samburu.

Goat Prices

Goat prices were below long-term averages (LTA) when compared to the previous month of February. Most of the counties recorded a stable trend, with only two counties, Kilifi and Nyeri, reporting a worsening trend due to the deteriorating pasture and browse conditions. 

Baringo, Embu, Isiolo, Marsabit, Samburu, and Tharaka Nithi recorded an improving trend.

In the month under review, maize prices were above average due to consecutive failed seasons.

 Terms of trade

The trends in terms of trade (ToT) between the relative prices of goats and maize in ASAL counties were below the long-term average as a result of the low purchasing power of households across all counties.

This resulted in high commodity prices; however, an improving trend has been noted in seven counties: Embu, Isiolo, Mandera, Marsabit, Samburu, Tana River, and Tharaka Nithi.

"This is mostly attributed to the continued reduced milk consumption at a household level due to a decrease in milk production, as well as poor dietary diversity, poor child feeding practices, and reduced food intake at the household level," the report said, adding, "Twelve counties recorded a worsening trend in the month under review while Kilifi, Lamu, Meru, and Narok recorded an improving trend."

Kenyans continue to walk long distances to get water

Distances to household water sources are generally improving in comparison to the previous month, with arid (pastoral) counties having distances ranging between 3.3 and 16.3 kilometres.

In semi-arid areas, the distance to water ranged from 2.4 km to 9.7 km, as recorded by Narok and Meru counties, respectively.

11 counties, including Baringo, Embu, Garissa, Isiolo, Kajiado, Laikipia, Marsabit, Meru, Narok, Nyeri, and Wajir, showed an improving trend in household access distances to water sources.

In comparison with the previous month, the current trekking distance to water sources from grazing areas is mainly above the LTA in 13 counties. The following counties, including Embu, Garissa, Isiolo, Kajiado, Laikipia, Marsabit, Meru, Narok, Nyeri, Wajir, West Pokot, and Baringo, recorded an improvement in trend. The average trekking distance for livestock for the month under review in arid counties ranged between 22 kilometres and 8.7 kilometres, with Baringo County recording the lowest distances and Mandera's recording the highest.

In semi-arid counties, the distance to water sources for livestock ranged from 3.2 to 13.3 kilometres, with Narok having the shortest and Meru having the longest.