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March 24, 2018

1.3 million Kenyans face starvation

School children view the carcass of a buffalo that died in one of the dams in Ijara sub-county on Tuesday after it got stuck in the muddy water. Photo/Stephen Astariko
School children view the carcass of a buffalo that died in one of the dams in Ijara sub-county on Tuesday after it got stuck in the muddy water. Photo/Stephen Astariko

More than 1.3 million Kenyans are facing starvation and are in dire need of relief food. So serious is the situation that livestock have started dying in large numbers across the country. The worst affected areas are Kilifi, Kwale, Tana River, Taita Taveta, Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Isiolo, Marsabit, Kitui and Samburu.

In Laikipia, as per yesterday, 200,000 people were in need of relief food while a further 150,000 people are faced with starvation in Kilifi. Another 230,000 are starving in Kinango and LungaLunga sub counties in Kwale county.

Expert comment: A country where there is no excuse at all for famine

The government is expected to issue a statement today detailing intervention measures.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett will also shed more light on the current food reserves. Last Friday, Devolution CS Mwangi Kiunjuri attributed the food shortage to the poor rains experienced during the March-May long rains.

“There is also water shortage and increase risks of malnutrition with the drought situation ranging from moderate to severe,” said Kiunjuri referring to the present dry spell.

Currently private ranches in Laikipia North are overstretched with livestock taken there by consensus or force by herders from Isiolo, Baringo and Samburu.

Speaking at Waso area in Mukogodo West ward on Sunday, nominated MP Sarah Lekorere and area MCA Paul Lebeneyo urged the national government, county government and donor agencies to swiftly supply people with relief food.

“The greatest fear is that our livestock may start dying because of hunger. They are too weak for lack of pastures and water. Again there is no market for them going by the situation” said Lekorere.

In Kwale many livestock are also affected by the drought of the last two months. National Drought Management coordinator Roman Shera said that locals are now forced to walk kilometers to search for underground water.

“The normal water sources are drying off and reports of dying animals due to lack of grass or water have been noted in Samburu ward. Poor rains and prolonged drought is the problem,” said Shera.

“We are urging locals in the affected areas to be prepared for a tough time ahead because the drought might continue to November and December,” he said.

Tharaka-Nithi and all north-eastern counties are also starting to feel the heat while the drought status of Lamu has moved up from alert to alarm.

The National Drought Management Authority has warned that Narok, Kajiado, Taita-Taveta, Kilifi, Kwale, Tana River, Kitui, Makueni, Marsabit and Garissa counties are experiencing a significant decline in food, livestock production and water supply.

In July, the government released Sh250 million to the Department of Special Programmes for emergency relief food and another Sh54 million through the National Drought Management Authority.

Kiunjiri said this would support shortfalls in livestock, education, water, health, nutrition and conflict management.

“In October alone, the Ministry of Devolution has dispatched 3,500 (90kg) bags of maize, 2,700 (50kg) bags of beans, 10,000 (50kg) bags or rice and 1,000 cartons of vegetable oil to ASAL counties,” he said.

The Ministry of Water and Irrigation has also mobilised 20 extra water bowsers for emergency water supply in affected areas.

Last week, the ministiries of Devolution and Planning, Treasury, Agriculture and Water held a meeting to review the drought and food security and assess the need for immediate and medium tern interventions.

A study by Tegemeo Institute at Egerton University released last week warned of a possible maize shortage by May 2017. The analysis was carried out in the key maize producing counties of Bungoma, Busia, Elgeyo Marakwet, Kakamega, Nakuru, Nandi, Narok, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu and Migori.

Mary Mathenge, Tegemeo director, said the weather department has predicted a La Niña on top of the present drought.

“There is need for close monitoring and checking on what is happening, particularly with the short rains that could be hurt by the La Niña. This will help policymakers to take the required action in time to avoid any cases of hunger,” she said.

She said Kenya will needs nine million bags of maize by July next year, but predictions indicate that the short rain harvests could be four and a half million bags, down from the usual five to six million bags when the rains are normal.

“If this La Niña phenomenon develops, we are likely to get two to one million bags of maize. Then hunger may hit us faster. Instead of May, it may hit us in April because our harvest will be very small,” said research associate Francis Karin.

In August the Agriculture ministry food report indicated reasonable food stocks.

The August report indicated that maize stocks stand at 9,622,300, up from 7,546,397 bags in July 2016 due to a peak harvesting of the long-rains crops. Bean stocks stand at 1,162,270 bags, rice at 576,490 and wheat at 2,580,000 bags.

The government has been urged to allow importation of yellow maize for animal feed production to reduce pressure on white maize used for human consumption.

Eastern Africa Grain Council chief executive Gerald Masila said this will reduce the inflated maize price.

“This is because humans have to share the little maize we harvest with animals and as it is now, maize production in Kenya is already low. This means the demand for maize will increase hence the a high price for the commodity,” he said.

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