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Humanitarian aid jumps 90 percent as dry spell ravages Kenya’s arid areas

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Women queue for water from an underground reservoir at Turbi Hills in Marsabit. PHOTO | DAVID MUCHUI | NMG

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Summary

  • When the government last week warned that the country faces food insecurity as performance of the long rainy season of March-May will be below average, many Kenyans on social media platforms reacted to the news with surprise.
  • But to humanitarian agencies, it has been months of frantic mobilisation of funds amid worsening food and water conditions, especially in the northern Kenya frontier.
  • Households in arid and semi-arid areas (ASALs) including Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Isiolo, Marsabit, Turkana, and Tana River counties are particularly at risk as they are currently experiencing various levels of drought stresses.

When the government last week warned that the country faces food insecurity as performance of the long rainy season of March-May will be below average, many Kenyans on social media platforms reacted to the news with surprise.

But to humanitarian agencies, it has been months of frantic mobilisation of funds amid worsening food and water conditions, especially in the northern Kenya frontier.

Households in arid and semi-arid areas (ASALs) including Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Isiolo, Marsabit, Turkana, and Tana River counties are particularly at risk as they are currently experiencing various levels of drought stresses.

“According to the Meteorological Department, the expected rainfall is likely to be depressed, with only a few areas in the regions of Nyanza, Western, Central, parts of Rift Valley and Eastern likely to receive above average rainfall,” Government Spokesperson Cyrus Oguna said last week during a media briefing.

The forecast comes on the back of poor rain performance between October-December, new cases of the Rift Valley Fever (RVF) as well as desert locust infestations that destroyed crops and livestocks in various counties.

As at January 2021, 16 per cent of respondents in a Food Security and Nutrition Working Group (FSNWG) survey reported cropping and 24 per cent livestock losses respectively.

As a result, annual maize production fell to 43.2 million (90 kilogrammes bags) last year, which is below the annual requirement of 47 million.

“The actual harvest for that year was 41,551,550 bags, translating to a deficit of about 5,500,000 bags, which was offset by importation of the commodity from the region,” Mr Oguna said.

In ASALs communities, food shortages, lack of water and poor fodder is pushing millions of people and animals to starvation.

Therefore, the need for humanitarian aid has increased in these areas.

According to a joint statement by ASAL Humanitarian Network, over 1.4 million individuals (equivalent to 10 per cent of the analysed population in the ASAL areas) faced high levels of acute food insecurity and were in need of urgent action in March 2021.

Likewise, 412,066 children aged between six and 59 months old and 98,759 pregnant and lactating women were malnourished and in need of treatment.

“With the performance of the 2021 long rains season forecast to be poor, the situation is likely to dip a little, and the number of those in need of humanitarian support likely to increase towards August,” Mr Oguna notes.

To measure the impact, ACTED and partners such as Concern and Oxfam conducted a survey in seven ASAL counties such as Mandera, Turkana, Marsabit, Isiolo, Tana River, Wajir, and Garissa from February 11 to 14.

Overall, the survey found out that the number of people in need of immediate humanitarian assistance increased by about 90 per cent from 739,000 in August to 1.4 million in February 2021.

“In the pastoralist counties, the population in need almost doubled between August 2020 and the current season,” the survey that sampled 147 key resource persons such as elders reveals.

Reasons given for food deterioration were droughts that impacted agriculture (low yields and crop failure) and animal production after pastures diminished.

Thus, only 35 per cent of ASAL’s communities are able to meet their food needs regularly. Their primary food sources including food purchase (46 per cent), own livestock production (33 per cent) and own agricultural production (seven per cent).

“Generally, respondents seemed to anticipate that the food security situation would either deteriorate (65 per cent) or not change (35 per cent) in the next 1-3 months as result of the prolonged drought,” it adds.

Unavailability of staple food has pushed prices up, making it hard for local communities (86 per cent) to make purchases.

“However, the government is committed to ensure that no Kenyan dies from lack of food,” Mr Oguna reiterated.

Through this, he said that the national government in collaboration with county governments have rolled out a plan to assist the affected including water distribution in Turkana, Mandera, Garissa and Wajir as well as provision of relief food in Turkana.

Others are cash transfers under the Hunger Safety Net Programme, Inua Jamii as well as subsidised seeds, fertilisers and a wide range of farm inputs to increase small-scale farms productivity.

Cash transfer under the Hunger Safety Net Programme, for example, will see over 101,800 households in Turkana, Mandera and Marsabit receive Sh2,700 every two months.

Plans are underway to incorporate the programme in Wajir, Isiolo, Tana River, Garissa and Samburu, Mr Oguna said.

Due to drought and conflicts, Isiolo and Turkana counties reported most of the displacements at 100 per cent, followed by Mandera (47 per cent) and Tana River (58 per cent).

“The most pressing needs reported in the newly created sited include food, water, healthcare and shelter.”

Apart from cropping and livestock losses, pastoral counties such as Isiolo, Mandera and Marsabit are battling the deadly Rift Valley fever (RVF) whose outbreak the World Health Organisation (WHO) associate with above-average rainfall.

Already, the highly infectious disease that is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes or close contact with contaminated animals’ blood or organs, has caused fatalities in both animals and humans.

With no specific treatment or effective human vaccine, RVF can cause blindness and severe hemorrhaging, leading the victim to vomit blood or even bleed to death.

Kenya has not reported major drought cases since President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017, declared the ongoing drought affecting many parts of northern Kenya, Coast, Eastern regions and pockets of other areas a national disaster.

This came after the Kenya Red Cross warned that 2.7 million people face hunger if nothing is done.

The drought was blamed on 2016’s El Nino weather phenomenon, which simply refers to warming of the ocean.

Some of its effects on the weather include droughts, food insecurity, flooding, temperature rise and rain.

Amid water shortage, the average household water consumption dropped by up to 58 per cent from an average of 8.4 20 liters jerry cans to 3.5 jerry cans per day per.

“This signifies a reduction from around 27 litres to almost 12litres per person per day on average which is below the recommended Sphere Standard of 15L per person per day,” it adds.