Thousands grapple with hunger as drought hits Marsabit County

Marsabit drought

 Mr Abdi Boru shows carcasses of cows that have died due to drought in Dabel village, Marsabit County on August 24, 2022.

Photo credit: Gitonga Marete | Nation Media Group

A drive from Isiolo to Moyale on the Kenya-Ethiopia border is a refreshing experience. The six-hour journey with a stopover in Marsabit town on the well-maintained 540-kilometre route is a tourist attraction of sorts.

But the county is seeing its worst drought in years. Mr Abdulahi Adan, a resident of Dabel village located some 60 kilometres northeast of Moyale, is a worried man. In the harsh sweltering heat, we find him tending to his only cow after losing a herd of 40 to the drought.

He feeds the emaciated animal on maize he buys from Moyale at Sh2,500 for a 50-kilo bag, holding onto hope it will survive and help him restore his herd in future. And he is not about to give up.

“After boiling the grains, I cool it and feed my cow. I am sure it will survive this ordeal,” he says as his voice trails off, and walks away, his head downcast. He doesn’t want to talk about this traumatising experience. For pastoralists, livestock is their most treasured investment and they are ready to do whatever it takes to ensure the animals survive.

Mr Adan’s situation is replicated in nearly the entire county with residents narrating how they are surviving on less than a meal a day while some go without food for days. More than 200,000 people are in dire need of food in the county.

Talking to residents after the campaigns, people reveal that they have been left on their own as they grapple with hunger. Politicians who swarmed the area with freebies have retreated to their Nairobi homes after securing the votes and relief food is nowhere to be seen. There is human suffering across the county with Laisamis and North Horr sub-counties the worst hit.

Marsabit County has not received rain for over three years and over one million livestock have been lost to drought. The situation has also been exacerbated by inter-ethnic conflicts since 2019 and humanitarian agencies have warned of a looming crisis.

Canadian-based Church World Service (CWS) Project Coordinator Mike Kendagor said the drought is likely to worsen as no rains are expected any time soon.

“Efforts to address the situation should urgently be taken, with long-term interventions required to eliminate the threat of famine,” Mr Kendagor said.

He spoke last week during a food distribution exercise targeting more than 4,000 households in Laisamis sub-county.

Mr Kendagor further noted that the drought posed the greatest threat to education and health with children under five years affected. Learners are dropping out of school as they move to far-flung areas in search of pasture alongside their parents. Some are too weak to walk to school due to starvation, he said.

Laisamis Assistant County Commissioner Charles Mbole expressed fears that the gains made in bringing education closer to children in the region could be eroded by the ongoing drought.

In partnership with non-governmental organisations, the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) has been responding to the immediate needs of over 229,883 drought-affected families through emergency cash and food distribution across Marsabit County. NDMA Marsabit County Coordinator Henry Mustafa said 68,968 people were in dire need of aid in North Horr and South Horr in Laisamis Sub-county, and Jaldesa in Saku Sub-county.

Mr Mustafa added that projections indicate the number of people in dire need of food across the county might rise to 252,882 by October or November.

At the same time, malnutrition rates had surged to 30.3 per cent in the hard-hit regions. He revealed that over 20,453 families have been benefiting from the hunger safety net programme worth Sh110,446.

The situation in Mr Adan’s village is dire with residents hard hit. One of the five sub-locations has been deserted and people have moved to areas where they can access some assistance, residents told the Nation.

Mr Abdi Boru said more than 500 livestock had died. He takes us on a tour of the area and we see carcasses of animals lying all over, with the stench overbearing.

He said only two boreholes serve the entire location. At one of the watering points, there are hundreds of livestock waiting to drink water as people struggle to fetch the rare commodity.

Another borehole that used to serve the small shopping centre, two schools and a GSU camp has not been functioning for over a year now and leaders don’t seem to care about it, he said.

“The cows die at the borehole after drinking water, yet they have not eaten anything. We must drag them away to avoid the stench and allow people to fetch water,” said Mr Boru, who has so far lost 60 heads of cattle worth over Sh1.5 million.

Ms Fatma Abdi says women are hardest hit as they are the ones charged with the responsibility of taking care of children and looking for food.

“We spend hours fetching water and burning charcoal to sell. Our children drop out of school since we have no money to pay for their fees,” says the widowed mother of seven. Dabel has suffered from years of neglect which has rendered residents susceptible to humanitarian crises including drought and floods.

The remoteness of the region has completely cut it off from potential relief food supplies and the situation is getting worse with each passing day. The health sector is also seriously affected with Dabel Dispensary lacking medicine, according to Mr Boru who is also the chairman of the institution’s management committee.

With the campaigns and elections over, residents say politicians have left them to fend for themselves.

However, during his inauguration for his second term as Marsbit governor last Thursday, Mr Mohamud Ali committed to restore peace in the restive county as his top priority. He said tackling drought and food insecurity will be given much attention.

Marsabit has over the years experienced the twin challenges of insecurity and drought. Mr Ali also appealed for collaborative efforts between the national government, non-governmental institutions and security agencies to help him tackle the challenges.

“I am grateful for efforts employed by the national government in restoring peace in Marsbit and I am optimistic that we will continue to work hand in hand towards alleviating the myriad challenges that have plagued this county,” Mr Ali said.

Regarding drought, his deputy Solomon Gubo said the county should prepare for hard times should rains fail till November.

He said the county government, in collaboration with other stakeholders, would begin putting in place contingency measures to avert the loss of human lives as well as that of livestock.