A drought is a period of abnormally dry weather that endures sufficiently long to deliver a genuine hydrologic unevenness prompting agricultural loses and deficiencies in water supply with its seriousness relying upon the degree of soil moisture level, the size, and the span of the affected region. Drought can be characterized in four ways:

  • Socio-economic drought: – water supply can’t meet human and natural needs and can agitate the harmony existing in a community.
  • Hydrological Drought: – when surface and subsurface water supplies are below normal.
  • Meteorological Drought: – when a region gets less precipitation than normal because of climatic contrasts. A dry season in one area may not be a dry spell in another area.
  • Agricultural Drought: – when the level of dampness in the soil does not addresses the need of a specific agricultural product.

Water sources, safety and conservation methods for communities include the following:

  • Use of water saving irrigation systems
  • Rain water harvesting in storage tanks and pans for both roof and ground water
  • Ponds, lakes and water treatment
  • Treating water by chlorinating, boiling, candle and canvas filtering, Disinfection Settling
  • Boreholes and wells constructions coupled with community lead participation for ownership and management
  • Spring water harvesting
  • Piped water connections
  • Local authorities or water utilities enforcing water use restrictions for a given water deficient areas

According to relief web report on Kenya 2017, on 10th February the Government declared a national drought emergency, with 23 of 47 counties affected. The number of food insecure people more than doubled from 1.3 million to 2.7 million. Some 357,285 children and pregnant and lactating mothers are acutely malnourished. The latest nutrition surveys show that three sub-counties (Turkana North, North Hor (Marsabit), Mandera) have Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates above 30 per cent. Six sub-counties (Turkana Central, Turkana South, Turkana West, Laisamis, East Pokot (Baringo), Isiolo) have GAM rates between 15% and 29%.

Maize production in the coastal areas decreased by 99 per cent compared to the long term average. People have to travel further to access water, for example in Baringo, household walk three times longer than normal. Pastoralist communities in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) counties are losing their livestock (with reports of large numbers of animal deaths in Turkana, Marsabit, Samburu and Mandera counties). Data collected by UNICEF from 10 affected counties indicates that close to 175,000 children are not attending early pre-primary and primary schools, primarily due to the drought’s impact. (OCHA, 17 Feb 2017).

As of mid-April, the rate of malnutrition is above emergency levels in some areas while other parts have serious acute malnutrition levels. Low dietary intake and household level food insecurity coupled with high disease burden and localized outbreaks of cholera (Mandera, Marsabit, Wajir and Tana River) as some of the reasons attributing to higher rates of malnutrition. The drought has also had a major impact on water resources, where 30 per cent of rural water points are non-functional resulting in a five-fold increase in water prices leaving some 2.6 million people in urgent need of safe water. Households are largely, and unseasonably, dependent on boreholes in drought-affected areas, with most other water sources having run dry. (OCHA, 13 April 2017)

United Nations Resident Coordinator and the UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya, NAIROBI, May 15 2017 (IPS) – A malnutrition emergency declaration

Severe drought across the Horn of Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda and Djibouti) has left over 12.4 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. In some areas, the current drought is reported to be the worst in over 60 years.

Food security in Kenya has deteriorated significantly since the end of 2016. UNICEF reports a significant increase in severe acute malnutrition. Nearly 110,000 children under-five need treatment, up from 75,300 in August 2016. Waterholes and rivers have dried up, leading to widespread crop failure and livestock depletion. At the height of the drought, surface water in most counties had either dried up or levels dramatically reduced.

These food price increases have driven inflation up from 9.04% in February to 11.48 % in April. Many families are making do with just one meal in a day. Conditions are dire in half of Kenya’s 47 counties. Livestock and milk production has declined, adversely affecting food consumption levels for communities, particularly women and children with malnutrition widespread among children. In the hardest-hit counties of Turkana, Marsabit and Mandera, a third of children under 5 are acutely malnourished, double the emergency threshold. High malnutrition, when combined with outbreak of cholera or measles, can lead to a surge in deaths among children and other vulnerable groups.

By the time the Government had declared drought a national disaster, over 2.6 million Kenyans were in urgent need of food aid. This figure will increase unless an appeal for US$166 million to support the most vulnerable is met; less than a third of that amount is available so far.

News of floods in recent weeks has done nothing to alleviate drought-induced malnutrition among children. Flooding is an indicator of poor infiltration resulting from lack of vegetation and soil degradation. This means that much water is flowing off the soil and too little is seeping in. We will face drought again before the onset of the short rains later this year. School children are dropping out of school to help their families search for water, or to seek work to be able to buy food.

Kenya Government declared a national drought disaster in February 2017 and committed US$128 million towards the national drought response. Resources have been allocated for food aid and monthly cash transfers through the Hunger Safety Net Programme. Livestock Insurance Programme offers a lifeline to affected pastoralists, enabling them to purchase animal feed to keep their herd alive during drought. Off-take programmes are helping farmers to sell of their herds and restock as necessary when conditions improve.

These efforts are commendable but the number of people accessing such support is not enough, and the needs are fast outpacing the response. We must urgently respond to this malnutrition crisis through treatment and prevention. Blanket supplementary feeding for young children and pregnant and lactating women can avert a catastrophic spike in mortality in the months ahead.

[Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) is a measurement of the nutritional status of a population that is often used in protracted refugee situations. Along with the Crude Mortality Rate, it is one of the basic indicators for assessing the severity of a humanitarian crisis (Source: Wikipedia].

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