Drought now a national disaster, leaders tell state

Elected leaders from the North Eastern region address the media.

Elected leaders from the North Eastern region address the media at Serena hotel on October 1, 2022 where they asked President William Ruto to declare drought a national disaster. 

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The leaders have asked President William Ruto to declare the ongoing drought a national disaster to enable affected counties to get more aid.
  • The leaders said the drought had caused untold suffering, with many families going for days without food.
  • The drought has affected at least 23 counties, according to government data. It has already spanned four rainy seasons. 

A group of elected leaders from the Northeastern region yesterday asked President William Ruto to declare the ongoing drought a national disaster to enable affected counties to get more aid.

The leaders said the drought had caused untold suffering, with many families going for days without food.

Addressing a press conference in Nairobi, they said additional aid would avert a crisis. “We are currently faced with a very serious drought because the rains have failed for the last four consecutive rainy seasons. We have lost livestock and human life is in serious danger.

“We, therefore, want to ask the President to declare the ongoing drought a national disaster to allow us to get help from across the world. That issue should be first on the list of his agenda,” said Wajir West MP Yussuf Farah.

The drought has affected at least 23 counties, according to government data. It has already spanned four rainy seasons. 

Dr Ruto, while flagging off a consignment of food to the affected regions on Monday, said about 3.5 million Kenyans are severely affected.

The flag-off came after the United States in July announced the donation of Sh30 billion towards mitigation of drought effects.

On the Coast, drought has escalated the human-wildlife conflict due to the fight for resources, especially water. Last month, three people were injured by wildlife in Voi, Taita-Taveta County, while hundreds of livestock were killed by hungry lions and leopards.

The county neighbours the vast Tsavo National Park. Elephants roam the villages in search of water. Residents complain that the government, through the Kenya Wildlife Service, is doing little to protect them.

Ezra Mdamu from Kasigau said the animals have been in the area for six months.

He said the drought ravaging parts of the county has not spared parks, game reserves and ranches. “We neighbour ranches and the park and we are seeing the situation inside these protected areas is not good. Human-wildlife conflict has been worsened by the drought.”

Last Sunday, an old man was attacked by elephants at his home in Kasigau village. Mr Kilongola Mwandoto was left nursing serious leg and back wounds.

Legislative intervention

Taita Taveta Senator Jones Mwaruma said he is pushing to have the Wildlife Conservation and Management (Amendment) Bill, 2020, passed by the National Assembly. It seeks to amend the law enacted in 2013 so that victims like Mr Mwandoto are compensated within one year.

“The bill was put on the shelves of the National Assembly because they said it is a money bill. Money bills are supposed to originate from the National Assembly,” he said.

Thousands of malnourished children in northern Kenya are in urgent need of life-saving nutrition services as it emerged the drought is also fuelling cross-border conflicts among pastoralists.

According to a report by the Health Ministry, Famine Early Warning Systems Network, the Kenya Food Security Steering Group and the Kenya Red Cross, famine has reached an alarming rate as drought continues to bite, with most families unable to afford food in the wake of rising prices. “Nutrition survey revealed that parts of northern pastoral counties report an acute malnutrition prevalence remaining at higher than 15 per cent,” it states.

In West Pokot, the Health Ministry and Action Against Hunger have embarked on community screening to empower mothers and caregivers to check the nutrition levels of children and seek early interventions, including treatment and healthful diets. 

The county is one of those with the highest malnutrition rate at 45.9 per cent—above the 35 per cent national rate, according to a demographic health report. Undernourishment has, however, dropped from 38.2 per cent in 2017 to 35.1 after mothers were educated on exclusive breastfeeding for six months and early detection of malnutrition to facilitate treatment and proper feeding.

Several counties in northern Kenya are to benefit from funds to be coordinated by the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) to reduce the impact of malnutrition among children.

The government has disbursed Sh1.1 billion to cushion vulnerable families in Turkana, Wajir, Mandera and Garissa from the effects of the drought. The money is to be channelled through the Hunger Safety Net Programme.

The misery facing the famine-stricken pastoralist families has been compounded by the drop in animal prices. Many families are selling their herds to minimise losses to drought or disease.

A bull that was going for Sh40,000 now sells at Sh25,000 after demand dropped.

According to NDMA and Red Cross statistics, the number of children faced with acute malnutrition increased from 884,464 in August to 942,000 this month.

At the same time, the number of pregnant and lactating women in need of treatment for the severe famine is 134,000, up from last month’s 115,727. “It is possible for us, going into the future, to have a much more proactive approach to situations like this so that we manage them ahead of time and avoid crises like the one we are in,” Dr Ruto said.

Yesterday, the leaders urged the government to send more aid to avert deaths. “We do not think the government has done enough on the issue of drought for the last five years. We appeal to the government to take up this issue seriously. We recently saw the roll-out of subsidised fertiliser but have yet to see any serious intervention on drought,” Fafi MP Salah Yakub said, appealing to the government to set aside funds for the purchase of livestock from farmers to avoid losses.

By Silas Apollo, Lucy Mkanyika, Barnabas Bii and Winnie Atieno

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.