(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Act now to mitigate drought effects, say agencies

Camels trek in the Chalbi desert region in northern Kenya in search of water
Ann Weru/IRIN

Kenya can best mitigate the devastating effects of recurrent drought by strengthening the livestock sector so that it becomes a viable money-based economy, and improving pastoral food and water security, say aid officials.



“Responding to drought has largely remained a reactive mechanism over the years,” Enrico Eminae, Action Aid Kenya’s Northeast Regional Coordinator, told IRIN. “There is also a lack of a coordinated approach by CSOs [civil society organizations] and government in addressing drought-related issues at all levels.”



According to the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) Secretary-General, Abbas Gullet, drought mitigation should focus on addressing vulnerability factors through activities such as dam construction and investments in irrigated farming in marginal areas.



The prevailing drought is expected to hit an estimated 1.8 million people, says the KRCS, mostly pastoralists, agro-pastoralists and those in marginal agricultural areas in the Coast, Eastern, North Eastern and the North Rift of Kenya.



In the northern Isiolo, Marsabit, Moyale and Samburu districts, at least 150,000 people urgently need food aid, most of them women, children and the elderly. Long distances to relief food centres and the inability to secure manual work have added to their vulnerability.



"The situation is tough, but most families have taken different steps to cope with the hardships. Some are skipping meals; some have taken their children to school so that they can get food under the school-feeding programme. In some cases, families are [eating] wild fruits," Bitacha Sora, a KRCS officer in the north, said.


''The story of drought and famine is almost becoming a cliché in Kenya''

Food and milk prices have risen, driven by reduced availability as herders migrate. A lack of water for domestic and livestock use is also forcing residents to rely on water vendors, who are charging exorbitant prices - 60 shillings (US$0.75) per 20-litre water can.



Conflict concerns



In the coastal Tana River region, drought could lead to conflict between residents and migrating livestock herders, some of whom have come to the more fertile Tana Delta area from northeast Kenya and neighbouring parts of Somalia, warned the Assistant Minister for Information and Communication, Dhado Godana.



"We have lost most of our livestock due to the lack of pasture and water," Abdallah Musa, a herder in Tana River’s Bangale area, told IRIN.



On 14 January the KRCS launched a KSh1.5 billion ($18.75 million) appeal for about 1.8 million people over six months. The response will focus on water provision and livestock destocking programmes - an estimated 20 million heads of livestock are judged at risk.



“Water trucking is no real solution and it is very costly, but it must be done,” said KRCS’s Gullet. “We need to operate before things happen. We shouldn’t wait until people die to call it [drought] a national disaster.”



But on 18 January the government said the drought did not qualify as a disaster, adding that there were sufficient food supplies to meet the present needs.



Farmers in regions that enjoyed bumper maize harvests, such as parts of Rift Valley and Western Kenya, following favourable rains in 2010, are demanding higher prices. The government has set the price at KSh1,800 ($2.25) per 90kg bag, but farmers are demanding KSh2,200 ($2.75).



In the 2005-2006 drought, livestock worth more than KSh70 billion (about $0.9 billion) was lost in the North Eastern Kenya region alone; a subsequent drought in 2008-2009 resulted in the belated trucking of thousands of dying livestock to the Kenya Meat Commission, noted the officer in charge of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Kenya, Choice Okoro.



"The story of drought and famine is almost becoming a cliché in Kenya," noted Damaris Mateche, environmental security analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in Nairobi. "Despite the existing drought early warning systems in the country, drought disaster response mechanisms and coping strategies remain miserably wanting. More often, drought and famine situations degenerate into dire humanitarian crises before the government takes substantial action."



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