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Wells are dry, herds decimated and hunger is increasing, as are conflicts. After three bad rainy seasons, drought is wreaking havoc in many counties in northern and eastern Kenya. And despite the millions of dollars injected into the humanitarian response by the government and international organizations, the situation does not appear to improve anytime soon.
“We now expect a disaster because there is no heavy rains expected for several months”, alert Ahmed Ibrahim, president of the association Priority to the development of arid lands of Kenya (ALDEF). According to the UN, more than 465,000 children under 5 and 93,000 pregnant or breastfeeding women suffer from malnutrition. Food insecurity already affects 2.5 million people, across twenty arid and semi-arid counties in the north of the country whose economy depends mainly on livestock.
ALDEF estimates that the 3 million mark will be exceeded in January. Kenya is not the only one affected: Aridity extends to southern Ethiopia, Somalia and northeastern Uganda according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET ), an information office of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The Horn of Africa has received below average precipitation since October 2020. In most parts of Kenya, the waterfall during the last rainy season, March to May, was 55% to 70% below normal and the trend is the same. even for the current season, which runs from October to December.
Cattle killed by hunger and thirst
Climate change, which is already severely impacting Kenya, is likely to further increase the rate of droughts in the future, experts say. Whereas previously they followed a cycle of five to seven years, only three years separate the last two.
Without sufficient regeneration of water points and pastures twice a year, the incomes of the inhabitants plummet in the northern regions of the country. Some herders have lost up to 75% of their animals, killed by hunger and thirst. The animals, sometimes too weak to make the journey to the water point or to produce milk, have lost much of their value on sale. The price of a cow has come down to 5,000 shillings (some 40 euros), falling more than 85% over the past four months. Wildlife suffers just as much: to date, twenty-three giraffes have been found lifeless in the affected counties.
James Oduor, director of the government agency for drought management (NDMA), envisages the worst: “In the long term, the effects of droughts in the near future are underdevelopment and increased poverty. “ If the phenomenon persists, cities are likely to see an influx of a large number of destitute herders.
This climate stress also threatens to fuel conflicts over land. In Garissa, Isiolo, Wajir and Marsabit counties, tensions are already being felt. “Because they follow the water and seek pasture, the shepherds cross the borders between counties. But on the other side, the populations are looking for the same resources, so there are clashes, says Ahmed Ibrahim. And how do you stop a herd that hasn’t seen water for ten days? ”
Despite their greater frequency, “Droughts are predictable, they set in slowly and for this reason we need proper planning”, remarks the president of ALDEF, criticizing the government for the slowness of the humanitarian response. James Oduor nods: “From January to March, the tensions and the needs were already present but the government and other stakeholders reacted in a limited way. ”
Especially since the drought is only the latest shock endured by communities living in arid environments. The desert locust invasions in 2019-2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic had already severely compromised their food security.
After President Uhuru Kenyatta called the drought on September 8 a “National disaster”, two envelopes of 2 billion shillings (some 16 million euros) were allocated to the crisis, in October and November.
“We have not seen this money on the ground, perhaps because the aid was distributed to a few households only., however indicates Ahmed Ibrahim. Anyway, if there are 2.5 million people in crisis, 4 billion shillings is not enough. ” In fact, according to James Oduor, the needs by December have been estimated at more than 7 billion shillings, but “The gap is not easy to bridge”.
For its part, the UN launched in September a fundraising of 139 million dollars (about 124 million euros) from international donors, of which 28 million were raised. NDMA is banking on a long-term response, notably through the construction of infrastructure for access to water and healthcare.
But the national plan launched in 2010 to prevent the effects of droughts in northern regions and arid counties For the time being, it is far from having succeeded, according to the director of the government agency, for lack of resources and time. “If we had achieved all of our goals, he admits, we would be able to contain the drought. “