Starvation haunts Turkana residents as drought rages

Turkana hunger

Namarel Akoo and her granddaughter Joyce Eremoi share the little food we gave them, inside their hut at Kodekode Village in Ngamia One, Turkana County. Their last meal was six days before this. 

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

 Wails of Akoro! Akoro! Akoro! (Hunger! Hunger! Hunger!) fill the air as we approach the homestead of 78-year-old Namarel Akoo in Kodekode Village, Turkana East Sub-county.Ms Akoo has not had a decent meal for months, surviving on boiled water and small bites here and there that are served by her 10-year-old granddaughter.For the granny, it is double trouble after most family members left with their animals in search of pasture and water as famine ravages Turkana County.“I am starving. Three days ago, I ate plain nangaria (half cooked ugali). I keep praying for death to come and take me,” Ms Akoo said as she lay on the ground, shielding herself from the sun.Finding food is tough for her granddaughter, who has to walk from one home to the next begging, the septuagenarian said.“Her parents are taking care of the animals in Kainuk. They send us a little money for maize flour. We are suffering,” said Ms Akoo.Lack of rainTurkana East Sub-county has not experienced rain for two years.The effects of the drought were exacerbated by the desert locust invasions.The swarms decimated crops and other vegetation they landed on.Except for the drought-tolerant but unpalatable Prosopis juliflora, popularly known as mathenge, all the other shrubs have dried up. Mathenge dominates the landscape with its dense green canopy.The most affected by the drought are the elderly, children and women, who spend most of their time under trees or in their houses.In Kerio Ward, animals are dying and those that remain are emaciated and require feeds urgently.National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) Turkana County Coordinator Abdikadir Jilo singled out Lake Zone, Kaeris, Kaaleng/Kaikor and Lapur wards in Turkana North, as well as Kerio, Kalokol and Kangathota in Turkana Central as high-risk drought areas.Others are Kalapata and Lokichar in Turkana South, Katilia and Kochodin in Turkana East and border villages in Loima and Turkana West.“More than 600,000 people are in dire need of food. Local stakeholders are taking necessary action. We have requested for funds,” Mr Jilo said.The agency says it is accelerating contingency and response programmes, including delivering water, especially to schools and hospitals.“We are procuring collapsible and plastic water tanks to be sent to strategic areas,” he added.Mr Jilo said the agency is working with the Turkana County Government steering and technical groups to help the most vulnerable residents.“The authority is involved in health and nutrition outreach in the sub-counties worst hit by the drought. The devolved government, development partners and other stakeholders are also responding,” Mr Jilo added.He noted that 40,000 households in Turkana get Sh5,400 bimonthly each through the Hunger Safety Net Programme, one of the four government cash transfer schemes under the National Safety Net Programme .Mr Jilo added that the number of families could be increased if the hunger situation does not improve.Turkana, a county that occupies 13 per cent of Kenya’s land mass, is arid, with poverty levels of 79.4 per cent, according to the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis 2020 Economic Report.  The national poverty average is 31.6 per cent.Turkana also has the highest number of hardcore poor people – a total of 571,000 individuals, the report says. The figure accounts for 15 per cent of Kenya’s total.According to the the 2015/16 Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey Well Being Report, a family is in hardcore or extreme poverty if monthly consumption per adult is less than Sh1,954 in rural and peri-urban areas and less than Sh2,551 in urban centres.This is the hardest hit group in Turkana, with families struggling to find food.In Kaluochelem Village, we met Ms Matet Esuron, a mother of five who had not eaten for two days. The family’s last meal was a quarter tin of boiled maize donated by a neighbour.“We are staring at death. The neighbouring villages are in the same predicament. We are a forgotten lot. It appears the government will only act when we start dying,” the woman said.Ms Esuron said her family now relies on neighbours for food.“We walk for more than eight kilometres to get water. My husband and other villagers are away with the livestock,” she said.The situation is the same in Lorengelup Village in Kerio Delta Ward.Fate of old menWe met Mr Ebong’on Kwee under one of the few surviving neem trees.The 70-year-old, who carried a plastic bottle with brown water, said it was the only “meal” he had eaten that day.His wife, Ewoi, is the breadwinner of the family that includes four grandchildren.The woman makes and sells charcoal. When she has no money, she gets food on credit from the nearby manyatta shop.“The last meal I had was boiled maize and beans. I had just received Sh200 from my son in Lodwar. If this drought persists, I may die,” Mr Ebong’on said.He gave his remaining 20 goats to his more energetic neighbour who has since moved to areas with pasture.The last time it rained in this village was November 2019, the elderly man said.“The government should speed up the distribution of food. We also need livestock feed and water,” Mr Ebong’on said.His village has about 15 elderly emaciated men.“We should be enrolled in social protection schemes in order to get some money to buy food. I wish the government would buy our animals before they die,” he said.Ms Ayanae Ekwee has four grandchildren. She and one of the children collect firewood to sell. On a good day they make around Sh100, which they use to buy food.“Elderly people should be prioritised in any intervention,” Ms Ekwee said.Locust invasionMr Isaac Emase, another local, appealed to the government to buy livestock, adding that the community has not recovered from the effects of the locust invasion.“With supplementary livestock feeds and water, our animals would have been in a good condition. We could sell some and get milk from others,” Mr Emase said.The drought has also interfered with school programmes.Lokwar Primary School in Kaputir, for instance, shifted its pupils to Nakuse Primary, where they study and eat. Lokwar school is now a livestock shed.Some children refused to join Grade One as there is no feeding programme in primary schools.The Daily Nation team established that nursery schools get maize and beans supplies from Mary’s Meal, a charity.This has kept the number of pupils in Early Childhood Education centres high, compared to primary schools.Ms Hellen Lotukol, a resident, appealed to the devolved government to help the charity feed children by supplying food to such centres.“Nawepeto Village also needs relief food. My meal consists of wild fruits. I spend the whole day in the bush searching for them,” Ms Lotukol said.At Kaimegur Primary School, food from the charity encourages the more than 50 children to remain in school.Hunger has grown worse in arid and semi-arid counties, attributed mainly to the poor performance of the October-December 2020 and March-May 2021 rains.The two rainy seasons were characterised by late onset, below average cumulative quantities and poor distribution.“This has worsened drought conditions, manifested in poor vegetation, greater distances to water sources, livestock malnutrition and reduced milk production,” the May 2021 NDMA bulletin says.Two million peopleThe authority said about two million people will need assistance between July to December.President Uhuru Kenyatta has declared the raging drought in Turkana and several other counties a national disaster and instructed the National Treasury and the Ministry of Interior to spearhead government efforts to help the affected regions.Turkana Governor, Josphat Nanok, recently said locals in many areas cannot find water and pasture for their animals.“Many Turkana West and Loima locals have migrated to Uganda with more than 150,000 animals, a situation that is resulting in conflict there,” he said.Turkana North and Kibish sub-counties, he said, were the worst hit, adding that the county had procured relief food that will be distributed starting Monday."We have reached out to partners, who are helping us to repair broken-down boreholes due to overuse. There are others where the water table has really gone down and those will be served with water trucking," Mr Nanok said."We hope that we will get a share of the Sh2 billion that the national government has allocated to drought-stricken counties, so that together we can tackle the drought by investing in land preparation for irrigating fields with flood water and rain-fed agriculture."Deputy Governor Peter Lotethiro said that the effects of climate change are dire in Turkana as evidenced by the drought.Donor fundingMr Lotethiro urged the Turkana County Assembly to pass a climate change bill that has adaptation and mitigation policies and can unlock donor funding relevant programmes.Agriculture Executive Philip Aemun regretted that the drought is also affecting hundreds of locals who would otherwise have plenty of farm produce for consumption and sale to food-insecure areas at affordable prices.He said more than four million goats and sheep across the seven sub-counties were at risk."Generally, most traditional and reliable grazing fields are depleted due to overgrazing, threatening pastoralism, the livelihood of a majority of locals," he said.Because of lack of pasture, county officials said, animals are weak and fetch little or no income for pastoralists who opt to sell now."We urgently need concerted efforts from all stakeholders in the livestock sector to rescue our pastoralists by cushioning them with supplementary livestock feeding so as to increase availability of feeds for the livestock that produces milk for highly affected women and children," Mr Aemun said.He acknowledged support from the Frontier Children Development Organization, which recently donated 300 bags of livestock supplementary feeds to support last year's victims of desert locust invasion who were also affected by drought in Turkana Central, Loima and Turkana North.   [email protected]