The number of Kenyans in need of food aid has now hit 4.1 million as the country feels the effects of below-average long rains in the March-April-May season.
The growing number of those in need of food has been attributed to failed rains, which have slowed the regeneration of pasture and impacted negatively on the short crop season that normally thrives on October rains.
The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) says the number of Kenyans in need of humanitarian assistance has jumped from 3.1 million last month to 4.1 million this June.
The agency says six counties of Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir, Samburu, Isiolo and Laikipia are at a critical alarm stage and they urgently need assistance.
NDMA normally categorises regions into three phases — normal, alert and alarm based on the severity of the drought.
The alarm stage is the most critical phase meaning that the lives of people and that of their livestock are hanging by a thread on account of severe drought.
“Below average performance of the rains has negatively impacted crop and livestock production across the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands. This is the fourth consecutive poor rainfall season since 2020,” says NDMA.
Child malnutrition, the agency says, rates remain high, with Garissa, Isiolo, Mandera, Marsabit, Samburu, Tana River, Turkana and Wajir being the worst affected.
“The malnutrition trend in these counties is mostly due to decline in milk production, hence reduced milk consumption at the household level,” it said.
“ It is aggravated by poor dietary diversity, poor child feeding practices and reduced food intake.”
The long rains did not perform as well as had been forecasted by the weatherman with most parts of the countries recording below average.
This is set to reignite debate on the quality of data coming from the Kenya Meteorological Department which had earlier in the year projected more than sufficient rains for the year.
NDMA chief executive officer Hared Hassan said the Government is scaling up relief assistance to affected communities with the help of partners, led by the United Nations Agencies.
At least 94,000 poor households have so far received half a billion shillings under the Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) as of May.
NDMA says it has disbursed Sh517 million to the poor and vulnerable households in Marsabit, Wajir, Mandera and Turkana counties under the routine cash transfer segment.
The agency has also disbursed a further Sh150 million under the drought shock responsive cash transfer portfolio to an additional 55,699 households in Mandera, Marsabit and Wajir counties.
The payment, which is for the March-April cycle has seen Mandera and Marsabit counties, with over 20,000 and 19,000 beneficiaries, receive Sh111 million and Sh107 million respectively while Wajir county with over 18,000 beneficiaries got Sh98 million.
The cash disbursements under the HSNP are part of the larger Kenya Social and Economic Inclusion Project (KSEIP) implemented by the government.
“Each household under the routine segment is entitled to Ksh5,400 while those under the shock-responsive portfolio will receive Sh2,700. This will go a long way in ensuring food for the vulnerable households in these four counties, which are among the most affected by drought,” said the CEO.
In the food security and nutrition security assessment report released in February, these counties were among those singled out as having huge populations in dire need of relief assistance.
The other cash transfers under KSEIP are Older Person Cash Transfer (OPCT), Persons with Severe Disabilities (PWSD) and Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) under the overall Inua Jamii programme.
The government has disbursed over Sh2.11 billion in cash transfers under HSNP and another Sh8.58 billion targeting the elderly, orphans and vulnerable children and people with severe disabilities.
NDMA says it is currently undertaking registration of poor and vulnerable households in Isiolo, Garissa, Samburu, and Tana River counties with a view to bringing on board an additional 32,000 households under the programme.
“We intend to bring on board as many households in the arid counties since these counties are most affected by drought. HSNP cash transfers reach about 26 percent of the population in the programme counties,” he said.
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The drought comes at a time when Kenyans are grappling with high cost of living that has seen the price of nearly all basic goods skyrocket, piling pressure on inflation.
Kenya’s inflation hit a 27-month high in May on the back of a jump in the price of essential items like cooking oil, food, fuel and soap, squeezing household budgets and demand for goods and services.
The cost of living measure rose to 7.1 percent in May from 6.5 percent the prior month, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).
For instance, the price of maize flour has gone up from Sh125 last month to Sh150 for a two-kilo packet at the moment while milk is retailing at Sh60 from Sh55 previously for a fresh packet of 500ml.
The government has opened a duty-free import window for maize outside of Africa with the view to checking the runaway price of flour on the shelves.
Kenya depleted emergency stocks in the Strategic Food Reserve (SFR) nearly four years ago as the government cut the supply of physical stocks to the affected households and embraced cash transfer.
The State said the distribution of maize and other food commodities to the affected people had been marred with corruption, which saw the foodstuff ending up in the wrong hands at the expense of the would-be beneficiaries.