Families risk starvation as state ramps up relief food distribution

Sorting beans

Adome Ewoi sorts out beans she collected by the road to prepare supper as Eremon Ngiminae looks on, in Kode kode village, Turkana County, on September 16, 2021.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Despite occupying 13 per cent of Kenya’s land mass, Turkana is a dry county, with poverty levels of 79.4 per cent.
  • An estimated 10,000 children in Turkana county are malnourished, while more than 6,000 mothers face acute underfeeding.

Chepochepos Kalale weakly clutches her six-month-old baby as she gulps a cup of murky water fetched from a river, three kilometres from her home.

She has not eaten for three days and the hunger has taken a toll on the baby.

The mother of five from Chesotim village in Baringo county, says the family depended on goat milk but the animals have been driven away in search of water and pasture.

“My other children are also starving. They walk two kilometres to school to get the porridge offered there. The baby has stopped breastfeeding and now takes black tea,” the distraught mother says.

The area is among those hit hard by drought. Vegetation has dried up and homesteads are deserted after locals moved to West Pokot county.

A 15-year-old mother of a five-month-old baby tells the Daily Nation she has not eaten for two days. The last meal she took was porridge given to her by a neighbour.

“My neighbours moved away a month ago. I leave the house to see if I can get someone to give me food,” the teen says.

The number of pupils at Chesotim Primary School has fallen from 200 last term to 50. The school is not covered by the feeding programme.

Government spokesman, Cyrus Oguna, toured parts of the county yesterday and maintained that there is enough food for the more than 2.1 million food-distressed people.

He said more than 47,600 bags of maize, 64,100 bags of rice, 37,400 bags of beans and 19,500 cartons of cooking oil would be distributed to families between now and December.

Baringo county would get 6,000 bags of maize, 3,000 bags of beans and rice and 1,200 cartons of oil.

“The government has spent Sh1.2 billion to procure the food for October and another Sh1.2 billion mobilised for November. The government is fully in control,” Mr Oguna said. 

He added that the food distribution in the 13 worst affected counties has been categorised by the severity of the drought.

Adome Ewoi from Kodekode village in Turkana East sub-county was lucky recently when she found a tinful of beans on the road after a truck road spilled it.

Dire need of food

Ewoi and her five children were assured of supper that day. She had only be taking water and the crushed beans on the road is what made the difference between death and living to see another day.

“My family will take boiled beans for supper. The beans are godsend. We had a decent meal weeks ago,” she said, adding that the decent meal was a tin of boiled maize. 

The family gets water from a community borehole in Nakulas, eight kilometres away.

“There is nowhere and no one to turn to for help. We just hear rumours of relief food. The situation is dire. Almost all the children suffer from malnutrition,” Ms Ewoi said. 

Her children are too weak to walk to school, which is more than 10 kilometres away.

“We call on the county and national governments to come to our rescue,” Ms Ewoi said.

Turkana county has received distressed rainfall for two years.

The situation was exacerbated by desert locusts, which decimated pasture and crops.

National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) Turkana County Coordinator, Abdikadir Jilo, says pastoral livelihood zones are in alarm drought status, singling out Lake Zone, Kaeris, Kaaleng/Kaikor and Lapur Wards in Turkana North sub-county, as well as Kerio, Kalokol and Kangathota in Turkana Central as high risk areas.

Others are Kalapata and Lokichar wards in Turkana South sub-county, Katilia and Kochodin in Turkana East as well and the border villages in Loima and Turkana West sub-counties.

“More than 600,000 people are in dire need of food. Relevant stakeholders are taking action. We have asked for funds,” he said. 

The contingency and response plans by the agency for water trucking targeting schools, health centres and other institutions have been accelerated, he said. 

Despite occupying 13 per cent of Kenya’s land mass, Turkana is a dry county, with poverty levels of 79.4 per cent, according to the 2020 Kenya-Economic Report. The national poverty level is 31.6 per cent.

Turkana county has the highest number of hardcore poor – numbering 571,000 individuals. That figure represents 15 per cent of the total hardcore poor in the country.

The situation is not different in Kalouchelem village as residents appeal for urgent help. Like the rest of the villagers, Ms Ikalale Ngiminae has not had a meal for days. 

“The elderly, children and pregnant women are the most affected. Newborns have no milk,” she said.

Highest malnutrition rate

An estimated 10,000 children in Turkana county are malnourished, while more than 6,000 mothers face acute underfeeding.

“Environmental degradation hampering recovery of livelihoods, livestock disease and human-wildlife conflicts are some of the factors contributing to malnutrition,” states a report by the Ministry of Health, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network and the Kenya Food Security Steering Group.

The Ministry of Health has begun providing vitamin A supplements, deworming of children and promoting appropriate infant and child feeding practices.

In West Pokot county, the Ministry of Health and Action Against Hunger have embarked on community screening to create awareness on the importance of nutrition.

West Pokot is among counties with the highest malnutrition rate, standing at 45.9 per cent. This is far above the national figure which stands at 35 per cent.

However, undernourishment has dropped from 38.2 per cent in 2017 to 35.1 per cent, after women were educated on exclusive breastfeeding for six months and early detection for malnutrition.

“We expect the malnutrition to drop further after women, their husbands and childcare providers accepted proper feeding programmes and early treatment,” West Pokot Nutrition Officer, Jane Limangura, said. 

Exclusive breastfeeding of children up to six months old has improved from 37 per cent in 2014 to 40 in 2017.

“More lives are likely to be lost as a result of the drought unless the government and aid agencies hasten the distribution of supplies, water and pasture for the livestock,” Turkana North MP Christopher Nakuleu, said recently.

He added that families have suffered heavy losses after their animals died. The drought is also fuelling cross border conflict as herders from South Sudan and Ethiopia cross to Turkana and Marsabit

By Flora Koech, Fred Kibor, Sammy Lutta and Barnabas Bii