(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Worsening food insecurity in the north

A young child gets her weight measured in a local Hospital in Tana River, Kenya 2008.
Julius Mwelu/IRIN

Levels of malnutrition are rising in parts of northern Kenya while food insecurity is expected to further deteriorate to high and extreme levels in the region, officials warned.

"The nutrition situation is critical," Francis Kidaki, the Turkana Central district nutrition officer, told IRIN. The drought-prone Turkana region in the northwest has experienced consecutive failed rains.

Nutritional survey results indicate that levels of global acute malnutrition have also gone up to 22.5 percent compared to 14.3 in 2007; severe acute malnutrition is at 3.5 percent from 1.2 over the same period.

"Currently at least 14,000 moderately malnourished people are receiving therapeutic support in the supplementary feeding programme," Kidaki said. The programme is also supporting 1,000 severely malnourished pregnant and lactating women and children.

"We are however not reaching all the affected communities especially in areas where these interventions are only to be found in the health centres," he said.

Kidaki attributed the prevalent malnutrition to a harsh environment that frequently results in drought and seasonal livestock diseases. Turkana received less than 30 percent of the normal expected rainfall amount during the last rainy season.

An outbreak of a viral livestock disease, peste des petites ruminants, has also led to numerous deaths among sheep and goats not only in Turkana but also in the neighbouring northeastern districts of Marsabit and Mandera.

The livestock, which are the mainstay of the largely pastoralist communities in the districts, are also succumbing to drought. "The death of heartier small ruminants is an early warning sign of drought and suggests that pastoralist households are unable to provide adequate water and pasture to their herds, from which they derive 40 percent of their nutrition," said an update by the UN Office for the Coordination of humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
In a 23 September briefing note OCHA Kenya warned that a crisis situation was emerging in the northeast due to water shortages and increased regional pressures on scarce resources. Ongoing conflict claimed lives has also affected access to food.

Mandera is experiencing the fifth drought in 10 years and residents are yet to recover from livelihood losses incurred in the past. Households are accessing only three litres of water per person per day as the drought situation continues to deteriorate.

"The last two months were very bad, the water shortage was even worse than the food situation," Mohammed Gulle, the Mandera Central district agricultural officer, told IRIN. "There is a whole district that was relying on water trucking."

Currently, scanty rain is being experienced in parts of Mandera but pasture is yet to recover. An at least 80 percent crop failure was also reported in parts of Mandera North, partially due to army worm infestation.

''The last two months were very bad, the water shortage was even worse than the food situation''

"Most people are still relying on relief food," Gulle said. "We have also distributed drought resistant seeds for early planting." Farming activities are concentrated along the riverine areas of the trans-boundary River Dawa, which runs from the Ethiopian highlands.

The food security outlook for the northern region however, remains bleak.

"Food security is expected to deteriorate precariously...especially in Marsabit and Mandera districts that are already in the highly food insecure category, should the forecast for normal to below-normal rains in this area hold," a Kenya Food Security Network Outlook for October to March 2009 said.

"The worst-case scenario for the same period based on the failure of the short rains...would likely culminate in a humanitarian crisis in Turkana, and ... Mandera and Marsabit," warned the outlook report. "The food security prognosis for the outlook period is unfavourable even in the most likely scenario."


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