Hunger in Kenya to worsen, warn UN agencies

Government statistics show 3.5m Kenyans in dire need of food

In Summary

• Report warns worst drought in decades now more likely after three below-average rainy seasons across arid and semi-arid lands.

•The report cites key drivers of food insecurity as prolonged drought, crop pests and rising food prices.

Kang'irisai residentS stricken with hunger await relief food in Turkana.
HUNGER: Kang'irisai residentS stricken with hunger await relief food in Turkana.
Image: FILE

Kenya  is among  20 countries in need of urgent humanitarian action as hunger is likely to worsen from June to September.

The country has been listed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme in their latest Hunger Hotspots report from June to September

FAO and WHO warn acute food insecurity is likely to deteriorate further in 20 countries or situations, including two regional clusters – called hunger hotspots – during the outlook period

Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Yemen remain at the highest alert level as in the previous report.

In the current report, Afghanistan and Somalia have been added to the list.

These countries require the most urgent attention as all have some populations identified or projected to experience starvation or death (Catastrophe, IPC Phase 5) or at risk of deterioration towards catastrophic conditions,

In Somalia, a risk of famine has been identified through June. Rains are significantly below average, food prices are rising and conflict and displacement increase.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, the Sahel region, Sudan, and the Syria are countries of very high concern.

In this edition, Kenya is added to the list.

“This is due to the high number of people in critical food insecurity coupled with worsening drivers expected to further intensify life-threatening conditions,” the 55-page report read.

The report cites key drivers of food insecurity as prolonged drought, crop pests and rising food prices.

“The combination of a prolonged drought, an outbreak of African armyworm, and rising food prices are expected to further escalate already high levels of acute food insecurity,” the report read.

Government statistics show 3.5 million Kenyans are in dire need of food.

The report said the worst drought in decades is now considered more likely given that three below-average rainy seasons across arid and semi-arid lands.

Further, the start to the 2022 long rains was poor they are expected to be light and brief.

Armyworms were reported in 33 counties by the end of April; more than 494,210 acres of crops and pasture have been destroyed.

Measures to contain the situation were put in place by government and FAO.

“Below-average harvests, along with increasing international food prices, have driven food inflation rates from five per cent in early 2021 to eight to 10 per cent in March 2022 (year-on-year),” the report read.

It said food prices are expected to escalate further due to a likely reduced long-rains harvest in drought areas. Further increases in already elevated international prices are linked to the war in Ukraine.

The report says high international commodity prices, especially of fuel and food, will also inflate Kenya’s import bill in 2022 and further increase its already high trade deficit and debt vulnerabilities (64.8 per cent of GDP in 2021).

It said resource-based conflicts will increase in drought-affected areas, with possible impacts on livelihoods, access to essential services, and already high humanitarian access constraints.

The report says that in ASALs, 3.5 million people are projected to be in Crisis or worse (IPC Phase 3 or above) between March and June,

That includes 758 000 people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) – a 75 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2021.

The report said Marsabit has the highest prevalence of people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) at 20 per cent of its population.

The nutrition situation is also alarming. Record Global acute malnutrition prevalence has been observed in Mandera (34.7 per cent) and Garissa (24.7 per cent).

Wajir has experienced the highest Global acute malnutrition prevalence since the drought of 2011.

The report calls for the scaling up of life-saving food and nutrition interventions (including cash-based assistance), This aid would meet the immediate food needs of populations at high risk and protect the livelihoods of those affected by the drought.

It also calls for safeguarding  farmers' livelihoods as well as that of pastoralists.

“Context-specific livelihood packages should be provided, consisting of cash, productive inputs and subsidies for basic productive services, such as tractors and irrigation hours.

The report says national social protection systems, including Kenya’s Hunger Safety Net Programme, must be strengthened to respond to the impacts of the drought on the most vulnerable populations.

(Edited by V. Graham)

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