YEARS OF MARGINALISATION

Nanok shifts hunger blame to national government

In Summary

• Since the advent of devolution, Nanok’s administration has received over Sh52.5 billion from the National Treasury.

• The governor says the Sh1.5 billion set aside in the budget is what is being spent to mitigate the hunger crisis.

Residents of Kakwanyang await relief food as hunger bites in Turkana
DROUGHT: Residents of Kakwanyang await relief food as hunger bites in Turkana
Image: HESBORN ETYANG

Governor Josphat Nanok has fought off perceptions that Turkana county has failed to spend allocated billions of shillings to spur development

The county is in the spotlight as drought-induced hunger continues to ravage the lives of hundreds of people.

Local administrators in the drought-stricken areas, including Baringo, have put the death toll at over 20. While the state is yet to confirm the number of death, Nanok has denied people have died.

Turkana is a marginalised region. It receives the largest share of the Equalisation Fund to fend for its population of under one million people.

The Commission on Revenue Allocation has proposed to allocate the county Sh656 million or more of the Sh5.7 billion set aside this financial year.

Since the advent of devolution, Nanok’s administration has received over Sh52.5 billion from the National Treasury.

Further, the county's six constituencies get about Sh708 million from the NG-CDF kitty and another Sh42 million for the woman representatives’ fund.

With the number of hunger-related deaths rising, questions have emerged on whether the duty officers have set their priorities right.

Nanok told the Star on Tuesday that the county has cumulatively received Sh1.2 billion from the Equalisation Fund but the National Treasury controls the money.

“We have asked to be given the money as a conditional grant in vain. At least 60 per cent was to be used in water projects. A number of them are stalled,” he said.

On the Sh10 billion annual disbursement from the Exchequer, the governor said Turkana has not had development since Independence, hence, it cannot move fast.

According to him, the allocation cannot sustain the region as it is still grappling with lack of schools, insecurity, hospitals, food insecurity and perennial drought.

“Sh10 billion can seem a lot of money. A chunk of it is spent on health, water, agriculture, education, and fishing. The money is not released at once. This year, the money was disbursed late. We received July 2018 money in December, most of which was spent on salaries. Development money started trickling in January,” Nanok said.

The governor said the Sh1.5 billion set aside in the budget is what is being spent to mitigate the hunger crisis.

OIL REVENUE

Capital flows by investors such as Tullow Oil plc are also viewed as some of the interventions that would have ended the troubles in the region. Nanok says the county cannot bank on oil revenue at the moment since the oil has not been sold.

“The little that has been drilled is still being tested. The gains will come when fuel is fully produced. We are currently focusing on laws that will guide the use of oil funds,” he said.

The Energy Act, as assented to by President Uhuru Kenyatta recently, allocates 20 per cent of revenue to county government and five per cent for local content.

For sustained food production, the county is working with donor agencies like the Food and Agriculture Organisation and Catholic Relief Services to grow food.

Nanok said the National Irrigation Board has already planted maize in 2,000 acres at the Katilu Irrigation Scheme in Turkana South.

In 2013, headlines were awash with news that a large aquifer had been discovered in the Turkana Basin and Lotikipi Basin. The reservoir, it was said, would serve the region for over 70 years.

But six years later, the water has not been extracted and pastoralists continue traversing the countryside with their animals to Sudan and Ethiopia for pasture and water.

Nanok said one aquifer has been developed and it supplies water to Napur Irrigation Scheme and a 150-hectare project by Kerio Valley Development Authority.

Water in a 60 billion cubic litre aquifer in Lokichoggio — the largest in the county — is salty and unfit for human consumption.

“Lake Turkana is saline and cannot be used for farming unless it is purified. We are looking for a solution. Our money is not enough and would mean we stop other development projects,” Nanok said,

He said the national government is best placed to intervene as it has the largest budget and can borrow from other sources.

Nanok lamented that none of the 31 dams planned by the government across the country is in the arid county.

“We are discussing with private sector partners who have expressed interest in working with us on the aquifer project. The county has done 45 water pans which temporarily store water.”

He said the county is in talks with the ministries of Water and Energy and Tullow Oil on the use of water from Turkwel Gorge dam.

The plan is to supply water to 200,000 people living along the oil pipeline. There also consultations with Uganda on how to improve water supplies from Karamoja.

But the situation in Turkana defeats the President’s promise on assuming office in 2013 when he pledged to ensure that no family would miss daily meals - in the spirit of national unity.

“National unity will be realised by investing in and modernising the agricultural sector by equipping it with the relevant information and technology that it needs to grow,” he had said.

After the chaos that marred his bid to serve for a second term, Uhuru further pledged to take up the mantle of making every Kenyan household food secure. “As I moved around the country, you (citizens) told me that a jobless Kenyan is a desperate Kenyan; you told me that a hungry Kenyan is a negative Kenyan...we want dignity; we want to put enough food on our tables; and we want a lower cost of living.”

The promise is yet to be realised as the country continues to employ reactionary measures – such as distribution of relief food, to counter food insecurity.

MPs, in a motion by Ndhiwa’s Martin Owino a fortnight ago, bemoaned the situation, saying it was time leaders, especially governors, took responsibility for the challenges.

Minority leader John Mbadi said it is a shame that hunger is being reported in the 21st century. He castigated leaders denying that no one has died as a result of drought.

"We have been talking of security in this country for many years. In fact, a lot of money has been invested in food security like was the case of Galana Kulalu," Mbadi said.

He blamed ‘white collar murderers’ in the national and county governments who profited from money allocated for irrigation and dams. “Out of Sh11 billion, if you take Sh2 billion to invest in water and agriculture as a priority, we won’t be in such a situation,” the Suba South MP said.

Aloise Lentoimanga, Samburu North MP, said the hunger situation needs proactive measures while Lugari’s Ayub Savula blamed the hunger situation on corruption, citing Sh160 billion spent on stalled dams.

Ironically, maize farmers in Rift Valley have been struggling to offload the produce from their stores because the cereals board has no space. They are still holding on to millions of bags of maize from a bumper harvest in 2018.

This followed the government’s decision on buying 2 million bags from the 16 million harvested in the last season.

The National Cereals and Produce Board has released 5,222 bags of maize for distribution in Turkana, Baringo, and Isiolo. The quantity is part of the 3.5 million bags the NCPB holds as Strategic Food Reserve.