Pain of dry rivers, dying animals and scarce food as drought hits harder

Dead livestock

Juma Tande with one of his father's cows that died due to starvation. Parts of Kilifi County have been hit by severe drought.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Early this month, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the ongoing drought a national disaster and listed counties, among them Tharaka Nithi, which were at risk.

  • Others are Baringo, Kajiado, Kwale, Laikipia, Lamu, Makueni, Meru, Taita Taveta and West Pokot while Embu, Narok and Nyeri are at a low risk.

Patrick Macheria heads to River Gituma, in Kaarani village, Tharaka-Nithi County, hoping that this visit would be different.

It is early morning but it is already blazing hot. Macheria then begins scooping the sand on the cracked riverbed hoping to reach some water to quench his thirst.

A herd of goats joins him but on realising there is none, they move to a different part of the riverbed to try their luck.

The river, which is the only source of water in the area, dried up months ago and a community solar-powered borehole installed by the county government also broke down leaving both people and livestock suffering.

Macheria walks for about 14 kilometres daily with his livestock to River Gituma and has to carry a spade to dig a well in the sand in search of water. He also carries a 20-litre container for taking home some water for domestic use.

“We are suffering together with our livestock due to lack of food, water and pasture and we are getting more worried because the situation is worsening,” Mr Macheria told the Nation.

The situation is no different in many parts of Tharaka North, Tharaka South and Igambang’ombe sub-counties where drought is wreaking havoc.

County National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) coordinator, Hussein Idhoro, said that the region is now on the alert phase of the drought.

Mr Idhoro noted that at least 7,000 locals face starvation and the number is projected to rise to over 20,000 by the end of next month.

“The region received very little rains last season that could not support crop or even pasture growth,” he said.

Early this month, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the ongoing drought a national disaster and listed counties, among them Tharaka Nithi, which were at risk.

Others are Baringo, Kajiado, Kwale, Laikipia, Lamu, Makueni, Meru, Taita Taveta and West Pokot while Embu, Narok and Nyeri are at a low risk.

Garissa, Isiolo, Kitui, Mandera, Marsabit, Samburu, Turkana, Tana River and Wajir were on the alert phase with 2.4 million people expected to be facing acute hunger.

In Makueni, the hunger situation has become a campaign tool in the upcoming Nguu/Masumba ward by-election. Mr Eshio Mwaiwa of Wiper is battling it out with Daniel Musau of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and Timothy Maneno, an independent candidate. The UDA campaign has been distributing maize floor to the elderly in the region.

The Wiper campaign team on Thursday pledged to push the national government to avail relief food to all schools in the ward ahead of the October 14 by-election. At the same time, Mr Maneno’s campaign pledged to distribute five bags of maize and two bags of beans to each of the 29 primary schools in the ward starting tomorrow.

Politicians have joined hunger-stricken residents in appealing for relief food from the government as drought ravages the arid region. Indicators from the latest report from NDMA show that majority of the households in the county have depleted their food reserves and that prices of food items in the markets have been increasing.

“Many farmers did not harvest anything following failure of the March-May rains. The government should, therefore, come to the rescue of households affected by hunger by supplying relief food,” Makueni Woman rep Rose Museo said at Mavindini on Thursday.

Although she singled out Mavindini as one of the most affected region, Ms Museo acknowledged that other areas have been equally hit by hunger. They include dozens of squatters at Kalembe Laa Village, a concentration camp for residents who missed out on the 25,925-acre Kiboko settlement scheme. They have been living in squalor for more than a decade.

The dwindling economic fortune of most of the households in the county due to the Covid-19 pandemic has compounded the hunger situation. “Households had sold the little they had harvested to meet their needs. In addition to this, traders had also depleted most of their food stocks. The reduction in household stocks had a negative impact on food security,” reads a copy of the August NDMA report seen by the Nation.

Although the prices of basic foodstuffs have so far remained stable in recent months, NDMA county director, Daniel Mbuvi, notes that most households are finding it increasingly difficult to afford basic food due to the declining value of livestock in markets. The drought management agency predicts that the famine situation is set to deteriorate in the coming months.

“This will impact negatively on household purchasing power and food consumption patterns,” says Mr Mbuvi.

In Kilifi, tens of cows have died as livestock keepers call for government to implement the National Livestock Insurance Scheme to safeguard them.

Along the Matanomane-Mrima wa Ndege-Dingiria Road in Ganze sub-county, several animal carcasses can be spotted.

The animals have died due to lack of water as the only water pan has dried up leaving locals without any source of water.

Mr Nyiro appealed to the government to provide water and fodder to families to salvage the remaining cows and implement Livestock Insurance Scheme.

“I have lost 20 cows because there is no grass and water. If the government had implemented the insurance scheme they had promised, we could have saved something,” he said.

Majority of locals in Sokoke ward depend on livestock for a livelihood and they have been losing their animals since August this year.

As a result of drought, prices of cows have gone down from about Sh30,000 to Sh5,000.

“We sell the cows to take our children to school, but there is no market now, some of them are dying,” said Mr Chengo Chile, a resident.

Area assistant chief James Randu said over 4,000 people from six villages in Sokoke ward are staring at hunger due to lack of water and food.

According to Kenya Red Cross, Kilifi is leading in the region with number of those facing famine followed by Kwale, Tana River and Lamu.

“We have more than 145,000 people who are in dire need of water and food in Kilifi and about 130,000 in Kwale while 78,000 people in Tana River whereas 21,000 people living in Lamu are facing the same situation,” said Coast Kenya Red Cross Coordinator Hassan Musa.

Reporting by Alex Njeru, Pius Maundu and Maureen Ongala


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