Time to declare raging drought a national disaster

Drought continues to wreak havoc in large swathes of the northern regions, putting people’s lives and livestock at grave risk. The short rains were particularly disappointing late last year, frustrating government efforts to boost farming with its generous offer of subsidised fertiliser.

The number of Kenyans facing starvation has risen from 4.2 million to six million. The Kenya Food Security Steering Group says some 970,000 children below the age of five and 142,000 expectant and lactating mothers need urgent treatment for malnutrition. Only last July, those affected totalled 844,000.

This fifth consecutive season of poor rains has undermined food security in 23 arid and semi-arid counties. The number of people needing humanitarian assistance has soared from 3.5 million to 4.4 million. Nine counties in other areas, including Kiambu, Homa Bay, Machakos, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Kirinyaga and Murang’a, are also affected.

The Kenya Meteorological Department says the expected long rains between March and May will be normal to below normal. The solution to the crisis lies in building long-term resilience to drought. Perhaps the time has come to declare the crisis a national disaster to enable massive mobilisation of food and other support for the affected Kenyans.

The steering group needs to spend Sh15.3 billion from March to May in drought-response efforts such as cash transfers, boosting nutrition, water, livestock feeds and school feeding programmes. Some 2.6 million livestock have perished, and more than half the water sources have dried up, as insecurity fuels the crisis. Human-wildlife conflict has worsened as wild animals roam the villages in search of water and food.

Israel and other ‘desert’ countries have managed to boost food production through advanced irrigation technology.

A country that has done quite well in building infrastructure, especially impressive highways and bypasses, should also prioritise food production. Dams and water pans should be built countrywide as rain-fed agriculture can no longer be relied upon due to the raging climate change.

Providing subsidised fertilisers only is a waste of time and money. Long-term irrigation plans is a key part of the solution to this crisis.