Pregnant, breastfeeding women bearing brunt of drought

Women carrying firewood walk past a carcass of a cow in drought hit Loiyangalani in Marsabit, Northern Kenya

Women carrying firewood walk past a carcass of a cow in Loiyangalan in Marsabit, northern Kenya, on July 12, 2022. 

Photo credit: Simon Maina | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Speaking during a press conference at the All Africa Conference of Churches in Nairobi, the agencies revealed that 986,100 pregnant and lactating women are acutely malnourished.
  • They crisis has heightened risks for women and children, particularly girls who have become more vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence and child labour.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women are among the hardest hit by the ongoing severe drought in the Horn of Africa.

Humanitarian, development and faith-based agencies have now raised the red flag over the negative impact of the drought on pregnant and lactating women.

Speaking during a press conference at the All Africa Conference of Churches in Nairobi, the agencies revealed that 986,100 pregnant and lactating women are acutely malnourished.

They crisis has heightened risks for women and children, particularly girls who have become more vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence and child labour.

“Female-headed households and adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to increased violence, exploitation and abuse. The number of children dropping out of school is rising, with reports of girls being married off by their struggling families surfacing in all the affected countries. Child marriages are being used as a negative coping mechanism to lessen demands on family resources and potentially get money that they can use to buy food and other necessities,” they said in a statement.

Children malnourished

The agencies, which included Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, Action Aid, World Resource Institute, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International (ADRA) and Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), also indicated that 1.3 million children are acutely malnourished and hundreds have already died at nutrition centres.

“We call for faster disbursement of funds from the global community and for governments in the region to prioritise provision of food and nutrition, rehabilitation of boreholes; and increased protection of women and girls against rising sexual and gender-based violence, exploitation and abuse.”

Speaking during the event, Mary Likama from Kajiado, one of the hardest hit counties in Kenya, said life has become unbearable as there is no food and water. “Women, girls and children are risking their lives walking for the whole day looking for water. The little food available is unaffordable by the majority poor. People and livestock are dying because of lack of food,” she said.

Mithika Mwenda, the executive director of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said the current drought trend is genocidal and validates calls for financing loss and damage within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change mainstream.

He said while the world struggles to devise solutions with little grassroots involvement, evidence suggests that communities have solutions. “All that they need is financial support to promote their ideas and innovations,” said Mithika.

VSO Country Director George Owala noted that the suffering pastoralists and communities go through as a result of the drought is a violation of human rights and leaders must be held accountable.

Susan Otieno, the country director of Action Aid Kenya, opined the UN must now realise that while discussions on climate change take place globally, impacts are local, with grassroots communities being the most hit.

“The global north must begin to publicly acknowledge their contribution to the problems of drought and floods in parts of Africa and Asia. I laud countries like Scotland and Sweden for their contribution towards funding adaptation but also urge others to come out and support efforts towards boulder climate action,” she said.

Domtila Chesang’, the founder of I-Am Responsible Foundation, an organisation that campaigns against female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriages in West-Pokot, told Nation.africa concurred with the humanitarian agencies, saying drought has, for instance, kept many girls out of school, putting them at risk of being subjected to the cut.

“The only escape for girls in the region from undergoing FGM is being in schools and with many of them being closed because of the ravaging drought and insecurity, they are now at risk of being cut. There is a need for the government to deal with insecurity even as we pray to God to bring the rains,” she said.

Early marriages

The anti-FGM champion added that cases of girls being married off for bride price to help families survive the drought have also become common.

“With many animals dying due to famine and others being stolen through cattle rustling, the only way to acquire wealth for families is to marry off their girls who sadly have to first undergo FGM. The dowry paid helps them to acquire more cattle, goats and money to buy foodstuff,” she said.

At least 36.1 million people in the region have now been affected by the drought, which began in October 2020. This figure represents a significant increase from July 2022 when an estimated 19.4 million people were affected, reflecting the impact of the climate change-motivated drought.

In Somalia, the drought emergency has disrupted education for 1.7 million children. Of the number, 720,000 (47 per cent) are girls, who are now at risk of dropping out of school. In Ethiopia, more than 401,000 children are out of school.

This figure represents a significant growth in climate and humanitarian vulnerability of communities across the three countries as 24.1 million people in Ethiopia, 7.8 million in Somalia and 4.2 million in Kenya are pushed to the edge in access to food and water.

Across the countries, a minimum of 20.5 million people are already waking each day to high levels of acute food insecurity and rising malnutrition. According to the Food Security and Nutrition Working Group, this figure could rise to between 23 and 26 million by February next year.

The organisations said the humanitarian crisis must be urgently responded to and all the available funding should be released immediately to the frontline.

Last week, Anglican bishops from South Sudan and Kenya issued an open letter to the UK government, appealing for urgent intervention in what they termed the worst drought in 40 years.

Farmers have been unable to harvest their crops for five consecutive seasons. This has seen the pastoralist communities lose much of their livestock, including camels, cattle, goats and sheep.


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