Asal counties fall further behind in poverty fight

Residents of Shabaa Village in Samburu County receive a donation of food items in February 2021. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Marginalised counties are seeing the least reduction in poverty even as the relatively more developed make remarkable progress, a new study shows, casting doubts on the effectiveness of Kenya’s devolved governance in uplifting poor Kenyans.

For instance, in the decade to 2019, poverty-stricken counties in the arid and semi-arid areas barely made progress, even as those equipped with modern amenities halved their poverty rates, the study by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows.

“Counties that ranked among the least multi-dimensionally (MD) poor in both 2009 and 2019 showed the most notable progress. In Kiambu and Nairobi City, the MD poverty rate decreased by 54.4 percent and 56.2 percent, respectively, in Nyeri by 45.2 percent, and in Machakos by nearly 38 percent. On the other hand, in Garissa and Samburu the decrease in MD poverty incidence was less than 10 percent, in Turkana and Marsabit by nearly nine percent, and in Wajir by 11.3 percent,” the KNBS states in the Inequalities in Wellbeing in Kenya report.

The report classified one as living in MD poverty if they are deprived of at least three basic goods and services.

An analysis of the report shows that Kenya’s poorest 10 counties had 5.5 million of their combined 6.9 million population living in poverty in 2019. This means that out of every 10 residents of those counties, eight lived in poverty.

The 10 counties are estimated to have 7.8 million residents this year, out of whom those in poverty would translate to 6.3 million, going by the poverty rates in 2019.

“In 2019, about 9 out of 10 persons (85.4 percent) living in Turkana were MD poor, deprived of three or more basic goods and services, compared to 15.5 percent (two out of 10 persons) of the population residing in Nairobi City,” the inequalities report notes.

The situation was similar across Mandera, Wajir, Samburu and Garissa where eight out of every 10 residents in each of those counties lived in poverty, making very minimal progress from the status of life they led a decade earlier.

West Pokot, Marsabit, Narok, Tana River and Baringo had more than 70 percent of their residents, seven out of 10 residents, also living in poverty, the inequality report shows, noting that “disparities in the realisation of rights across counties remained widespread despite significant improvements over the decade.”

“Turkana, Mandera, Wajir, Samburu and Garissa were ranked as the poorest counties in 2019 with MD poverty rates between 80.4 and 85.4 percent. In 2009, Wajir, Turkana, Mandera, West Pokot, and Marsabit ranked the poorest counties, with MD poverty rates ranging between 88.4 and 94 percent,” the report notes.

But while the poor countries stay deprived 15 years later and more than a decade since the onset of the devolved system of governance in 2013, the report notes that most of the counties where residents lived out of poverty in 2009 have halved the number of residents living in poverty.

They include Nairobi whose poverty levels have reduced from 34 percent to 15.5 percent of residents in 2019, Kiambu (from 46 percent to 20 percent poor residents), Nyeri which reduced the proportion of its poor residents from 58 percent to 32 percent, and Uasin Gishu which had slightly over a third of its residents living in poverty.

“These five counties ranked the least deprived also in 2009 with MD poverty incidence between 34 and 57.8 percent,” the report notes.

It notes that the data suggest that “these counties have been “left behind” in the overall progress in the country – all of them recorded slow progress in MD reduction between 2009 and 2019.”

But the situation in the counties classified as arid and semi-arid lands (Asals) is being witnessed despite hundreds of billions of shillings the government and non-government agencies continue to spend on them, albeit with little progress to show for it.

The national government continues to set aside billions of shillings for funding programmes to end poverty and inequality every year, besides the money set aside through the equitable share of revenues to counties towards combating poverty, and many non-governmental programmes set up across those counties.

The national government has, for instance, allocated Sh426 billion towards equity, poverty reduction and social protection for vulnerable groups over the past five years, with Sh82.1 billion set aside for the current year ending this June.

Nationally, the report notes that the MD poverty rate decreased from 68.2 percent in 2009 to 50.8 percent in 2019.

“However, inequalities in the realisation of basic rights and fulfilment of needs, including financial wellbeing, remained wide between both rural and urban areas, and across counties. In 2019, Kenyans residing in rural areas were more than twice as likely to be MD poor compared to the population in urban areas, with MD poverty incidence rates between 61.9 and 25.8 percent, respectively,” KNBS notes.

The statistics body notes that to tackle poverty in the country, the government needs to promote economic growth and job creation and establish a minimum social protection floor to address different contingencies.

“This calls for prioritisation of households with a larger number of children and youths in targeted social protection programmes that provide cash or cash plus support. Additionally, a universal cash grant for children would not only improve their (and their households’) financial wellbeing but also have spillover effects in improving their health, educational, nutritional and other outcomes,” the report says.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.