Hunger stalks Coast as drought bites

Mzee Lekuyan Sinyuk chopping roasted cactus FPR his two cows at Musul village in Laikipia.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Janet Kazungu from Ganaola village in Mrima wa Ndege location, Kilifi County is a distraught woman. At 18, she is already a mother of two.

But her age is the least of her worries for now as, every day, she struggles to feed her two children aged three and four.

This is due to the ravaging drought that has struck parts of Kilifi County due to lack of harvests for three seasons this year as there was little or no rainfall. When lucky, she feeds her family on ugali and salt.

“If you are lucky to get money to buy a packet of maize flour, there will be no money left for vegetables. We cook the ugali and eat it with salt. Sometimes, we survive on porridge because the maize flour was not enough for ugali,” she added.

Many other families in the driest parts of Kilifi County are faced with similar circumstances. According to a National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) June 2022 report, Kilifi is one of the arid and semi-arid counties in the “alert” phase of the drought.

“Three sub-counties — Lagdera in Garissa,Kaloleni in Kilifi and Mandera East in Mandera — are in extreme vegetation deficit and in need of humanitarian assistance,” the report states.

In Taita Taveta, the drought has taken a heavy toll on livestock. Dried-up water pans and barren fields dot vast swathes of the county, with Voi Sub-county bearing the brunt.

The NDMA says over 75,000 people are in dire need of food and water.  The county did not receive enough rain last season to sustain pasture and provide adequate water for domestic and livestock use. Locals told the Nation they were worried they might lose their livestock. Mr Donald Malombo, a resident of Ngolia, said the situation might worsen because the April-May rains also failed.

He said residents are unable to find pasture and their weak animals can no longer produce milk. Between July last year and April this year, 78 elephants died due to the effects of drought in the Tsavo ecosystem. The scramble for resources between wildlife and humans is escalating in the county due to the proximity of the Tsavo National Park. Cases of human-wildlife conflict have increased in the area, with elephants invading community water points and breaking tanks in homes.

NDMA County Coordinator Gabriel Mbogho said the agency was monitoring the situation.

He said the government was working on measures to mitigate the biting drought through a cash transfer programme and supply of animal feeds.

In Tana River County, despite having four mega irrigation schemes — Bura (32,000 acres), Hola (5,000 acres), Tana Delta (35,000 acres) and Galana Kulalu (400,000 acres) — the population still suffers from starvation and high levels of malnutrition.

According to the NDMA, more than 70,000 people in the county rely on relief food and financial support, with more than 100,000 earning below a dollar a day.

“Without relief support, many would die of hunger,” said County Coordinator Abdi Mussa,.

 Additional reporting by Stephen Odour