Two consecutive years of failed rains have left 3.4 million Kenyans in need of food aid and 480,000 children requiring treatment for acute malnutrition. It’s the worst humanitarian crisis the country has faced since a major drought scorched the Horn of African region in 2011, and an emergency likely to persist well into 2018.
The government declared a national drought disaster early last year, with 23 out of 47 counties affected. Nutrition surveys showed that perennially dry Turkana North as well as parts of Marsabit and Mandera counties had global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates above 30 percent – double the emergency threshold.
Northern Turkana Central, Turkana South, Turkana West, East Pokot, and Isiolo counties – also in Kenya’s so-called Arid and Semi-Arid Lands, known as ASAL – had GAM rates of between 15 and 29 percent.
Three million people lack access to clean water. Livestock, on which households in the underdeveloped ASAL areas depend, have also succumbed to the water shortages – dying in large numbers.
There has been a market glut as pastoralists have sold off surviving animals, triggering price crashes of as much as 90 percent in some areas.
“Most of the communities we support as an organisation are pastoralists who solely rely on livestock for livelihoods. They lost most of their livestock,” Godfrey Wapangana, a programme officer at the aid agency World Vision, told IRIN.
That has reduced the availability of protein and milk, worsening nutritional levels, particularly among children.
The drought has also hit food production, with maize output falling by 99 percent compared to the long-term average in coastal areas.
That, coupled with an outbreak of the voracious Fall Army Worm pest, has seen wholesale staple food price increases of between eight and 32 percent above average in the urban markets of Nairobi, Mombasa, and Eldoret.
“The last 10 months or so have been one sad moment after another,” said Lojok Lekurug, a 37-year-old mother of six in Nadapal, Turkana County.
“With the escalating food prices and the drought, we have been feeding on edible wild fruits, which are scarce. It has not been easy surviving."
Drought conditions have also led to declines in school attendance and rising dropout rates, UNICEF has warned. Families are also on the move, “which poses protection risks for women and children,” the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, noted.
Needs also extend to the 420,000 refugees living in Daadab and Kakuma refugee camps in northern Kenya. Due to a shortfall in funding, the World Food Programme announced in November that it was cutting rations by 30 percent – just six months after it resumed full rations.
Some parts of Kenya have faced at least two consecutive years of failed rains leading to the current crisis. And the signs are not good for 2018.
The short rains, typically lasting from October to December, came late and finished early. Pasture and water availability are expected to be below average through the dry season, most likely until the end of March, according to the famine early warning service, FEWSNET.
It forecasts that the long rains (March to May) are still expected to be below average in the currently drought-affected ASAL – although they are expected to be at least average across the western and central areas of the country.
Since November 2016, the government has allocated $124.3 million as part of its response plan. But there are large question marks about the impact of Kenya’s political uncertainty and re-run elections on further government spending.
In March 2017, the UN launched a $165.7 million flash appeal, followed by a further appeal in August to help scale up the response in northern Kenya. As of December, out of a total of $205 million requested, donors had provided $86 million – 42 percent of needs.
This shortfall is restricting emergency operations. Despite immense needs, in some counties the WFP has not been able to provide any assistance at all to feed vulnerable children.
The agency also says it has a shortfall of $24.6 million to cover its refugee operation to the end of May 2018.
(TOP PHOTO: Women, children and donkeys on the arid plains at the feet of the Mogila. CREDIT: Gwenn Dubourthoumieu/IRIN)