Senators want State to declare drought a national disaster

Members of the public wait for their rations of relief food

Members of the public wait for their rations of relief food distribution by President William Ruto to hunger victims due to prolonged drought, at Nakaalei in Turkana on November 5, 2022.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Senators from the Arid and Semi-arid lands (Asal) counties want drought declared a national disaster and appropriate measures taken to save livelihoods in the affected areas.

The legislators who spoke in Mombasa during a retreat suggested the severity of the drought was being taken lightly by President William Ruto’s administration.

They now want more relief efforts by the government, including investments in irrigation projects, to be sustained in order to prevent what is already a disaster from getting worse.

"The donors and other non-state actors are not willing to respond to the drought crisis unless the government declares it a national disaster. The drought has led to the loss of nearly 70 per cent of livestock for lack of pasture and water in the affected communities. The fate of the remaining livestock is scary and if nothing is done they will soon be wiped out by drought," said Mandera Senator Ali Roba.

At least six counties in Northern Kenya face an emergency food situation, Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fews Net) warns. These are Turkana, Marsabit, Isiolo, Wajir, Mandera and Garissa, which have a cumulative population of 4.6 million people according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

The senators also complained of the impact of relief food distribution and livestock off-take programs spearheaded by the government to be inadequate, calling for a more sustainable solution to be implemented immediately. 

"The measures that the national government has undertaken to deal with the drought menace are unsustainable. As a government, you cannot feed millions of people through relief supplies. That is not a solution," said Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua.

Mr Wambua suggested a permanent solution, which should see the government to stop relying on rain-fed agriculture and instead invest in irrigation agriculture.

They also want the county governments in the Asal region to realign their supplementary budgets in ensuring matters of climate change are prioritized. 

Narok Senator Ledama Ole Kina said timely action by the government and partner organisations could save thousands.

The Senators have asked the government to immediately carry out an emergency assessment in all affected counties in a bid to design practical and appropriate response strategies. 

They also called upon the government to immediately supply relief food to affected populations. 

"The right response to this drought crisis would include the use of the United Nations standard food portions per head. This should be considered for an effective response to the drought to avert famine," said Nominated Senator Peris Tobiko. 

Tana River Senator Danson Mungatana complained of inadequate resources saying other affected counties are crossing over to his region in search of food and pasture. 

"It has become difficult for our people since our resources are limited and not enough. If the government declares drought a national disaster then we would get assistance from the donors and other non-state actors," he said, noting the situation has escalated. 

"It started with livestock perishing and now people are also dying. This needs an urgent response," said Senator Mungatana.