Chepkikigho Tongelech, 76, sits pensively in a lone dilapidated hut with four of her grandchildren left under her care since the beginning of the year.
Able members of this family in Loyami village, Tiaty West, Baringo County, moved to Masol in neighbouring West Pokot in search of water and pasture for their livestock because of the long dry spell that had hit the area.
For four consecutive days, the elderly woman has been boiling wild fruits, which the Pokot community calls sorich, to feed her starving grandchildren.
In this arid village, the vegetation bears the unforgiving effects of drought – it is dry and completely bare apart from cactus trees.
Getting water for drinking, let alone food, is a nightmare.
The area is among the worst hit by drought, with no water and vegetation.
The dilapidated structure, a single cold cramped house whose rafters were almost falling, revealed the levels of poverty in the area.
“This is an arid area that is not viable for farming and livestock keeping is the only livelihood. Other family members left to go search for pasture, leaving us with nothing to eat,” Ms Tongelech said.
“My aging husband and young grandchildren are almost starving to death, having been forced to depend on sorich, which is boiled for hours, virtually the entire day.”
The cooking of the wild fruits, she said, is also another nightmare because it needs lots of water, which is not available either, and can also cause adverse health effects if not boiled properly.
“In normal circumstances, we would sell goats or cows to get money to buy foodstuffs and other necessities, but now there is no single livestock in the affected villages,” she said.
“Whenever we get a little amount, we buy maize flour to cook porridge for the young children, maybe once a day so that they don’t starve. Here, we live one day at a time.”
Among the worst-hit villages in Tiaty East and Tiaty West are Kongor, Kapau, Chesotim, Toplen, Naudo, Riong’o, Akwichatis, Silale, Paka, Kositei, Natan, Chemisik, Chemoril, Mukur, Katikit, Lokis, Kreze, Chesotim, Ng’aina, and Gulal, Seretion, NyauNyau, Akoret, Akirapet, Ng’aina, Sukut and Kang’iriru.
Other villages are Kapturo, Toboroi, Kosile, Yatya, Chepkesin, Ng’aratuko, Kagir, Chemoe, Kamwetio in Baringo North, Mbechot, Kasiela, Arabal, Chemorong’ion, Mukutani, Noosukro, Lamaiywe and Sinoni in Baringo South.
It also emerged that some residents have started feasting on the carcasses of dead livestock that had been left behind, sparking fears of infections.
“We do not know when our men will come back home with the livestock. Until then, we do not know what we will eat because the situation is getting worse day by day,” said Ms Chepochepos Kalale, from Chesotim village.
The situation has been worsened in Baringo North, Baringo South and Tiaty sub-counties by insecurity. Armed raiders from neighbouring communities stole many animals and many locals sought refuge at camps in other villages.
“We are in temporary camps in faraway villages with our children after we fled the spate of attacks, with no food to eat, only depending on well-wishers. We are not even certain if our men will come back alive,” said Catherine Kibet, a resident of Sinoni village in Baringo South.
“The situation here is bad. We have been abandoned and we are left wondering if we are any lesser Kenyan. We have no food to eat and we cannot also go out to search for it for fear of being ambushed and shot by bandits. We have virtually been reduced to beggars.”
Richard Chepchomei, an elder from the banditry-prone Chemoe in Baringo North, stated that the areas hit hard by food scarcity are Kagir, Yatya, Kesumet, Kosile, Kinyach, Ng’aratuko, Chemoe and Kapturo villages, where livestock was wiped out by armed criminals.
“The situation in these villages is dire. As we speak, many families go for days without food, only relying on well-wishers for their survival,” Mr Chepchomei said.
“When schools were open, learners used to depend on the one meal food rations provided for the school feeding programme, and parents also partook of those meals. Now that schools are closed, cases of starvation are very high in the area.”
Some locals, he said, have started scavenging for food at security camps.
Nelly Akiru, a trader at Nginyang’ in Tiaty, said food prices had hit the ceiling owing to scarcity and a night curfew imposed by the government in the region.
For instance, she said a two-kilogramme packet of maize flour was selling for Sh300, up from Sh80 in March, and many families cannot afford the new prices. A goat that used to sell for Sh8,000 is now going for Sh3,500.
“Food scarcity in this region has also been worsened by the ongoing dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed by the government to restore order and many tradesmen from Marigat and other major towns who used to supply food items fear travelling in the area,” said Canon Christopher Chochoi, a retired Anglican priest.
Acute food shortages
Community health volunteers (CHVs) in the region have raised concerns that thousands of children were starving, with several suffering from acute malnutrition due to acute food shortages.
Nicholas Kamama, a CHV from Chemisik in Tiaty West, said many cases of severe malnutrition have been reported in Mukur, Cheptimin, Katikit and Adong’e villages, with the worst hit being children below five years old.
Tiaty East health services coordinator Joseph Nakopir said besides children, elderly people are also suffering from malnutrition, with the worst hit being those in remote areas.
“There is no regular food supply in the arid areas and many families are sleeping on empty stomachs, a situation that has led to high cases of malnutrition, not only in children but also the elderly. Urgent food aid is needed in the affected areas to save the situation,” Mr Nakopir said.
Baringo County Commissioner Abdirisack Jaldesa acknowledged that thousands of locals have been hit hard hit by food scarcity but assured them that relief food would be distributed in Tiaty East, Tiaty West, Baringo North, Baringo South, Mogotio and Baringo Central sub-counties by next week.
“It is true most of the areas in this region are in dire need of food aid owing to the long dry spell and erratic rainfall that led to crop failure in some parts,” he said.
“We are now mapping all areas that have been affected and locals will get food soon. We have also put in place mechanisms to ensure that all schools in areas affected by insecurity get food rations to allow them to resume learning in the second term uninterrupted.”