Residents go hungry as human-wildlife conflict escalates in Taita Taveta

 A herder blocks his cattle to give way to elephants at Choke ranch in Taita Taveta County. The ongoing drought has made livestock and wildlife share water in the local ranches.

Photo credit: Liucy Mkanyika I Nation Media Group

An estimated 90,000 people are sleeping hungry in Taita Taveta County, a report from the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) shows.

The report also says that the failed rains and escalated cases of human-wildlife conflict have further affected farmers in the county.

Due to a lack of water and pasture inside protected areas, elephants and lions from the neighbouring Tsavo National Park have now camped in community areas across the county, killing livestock and raiding farms.

NDMA County coordinator Gabriel Mbogho said the region is grappling with a major drought caused by the five failed consecutive rainy seasons resulting in shortages of food, water and pasture.

"There were a few areas that received some rainfall so the number of those who were affected by hunger has gone down," he said. 

Although the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has deployed the Problematic Animal Management Unit to some areas to control the situation, elephants and lions continue to raid homesteads and farms rendering residents poorer.

"KWS officers are not helping at all. Prides of lions are still terrorising us. They have killed all my goats yet I will not be compensated anytime soon," said a Rong’e resident Simon Mwamburi.

Wellwishers have however continued to provide lifesaving food and nutrition assistance to affected locals across the county. 

The Kenya Red Cross Society branch's chairperson Joram Oranga said the situation has not improved since the rainfall was inadequate. 

Mr Oranga said the society has continued to distribute food to needy families across the county.

On Monday, KRC distributed food to 600 families in Mata, 70 in Kalambe and 40 in Voi town.

"We are receiving relief food from wellwishers but the distribution depends on the availability of the aid," he said.

He said sometimes the urban poor population is left behind yet they suffer from hunger due to the unavailability of jobs and income.

Mr Oranga said some families have been consuming inadequate food quantities following the high cost of food commodities.

"The food security situation in the county has not improved. Some households are consuming inadequate quantities than they would normally consume, compromising their diet and thereby suffering malnutrition," he warned. 

He said the issue of human-wildlife conflict has exacerbated the situation in the area whereby elephants have invaded farms and destroyed crops leaving residents without food.

"At Talio Nyika in Sagalla and Mwashoti in Mwatate, the elephants have camped in people's homes in search of water and food. They are breaking into houses and residents are now living in fear," he said.

Pastoralists living in some parts of Taveta are now reeling in poverty after their herds were wiped out by the drought.

At the Orkung area in Mata, Mr Simon Solonga said they lost hundreds of livestock that they depended on as their source of income.

He said only a few livestock are remaining with the pastoralists now depending on food aid for survival.

"We do not know what to do because life is now unaffordable. We are forced to look for grass to bring to the remaining cows because they are very emaciated to go looking for water and pasture," he said.