Saturday, 11 June 2011


"People and animals are simply on their death beds." This was how the Director of Northern Kenya Caucus described the effects of the ravaging drought in the country after touring The North Eastern Province Towns recently. "This is a very ugly scene, a very disturbing scene that the country is facing," He added during a recent press briefing last week. Reports indicate that several people have already succumbed to the effects of starvation which has also killed thousands of livestock due to lack of water and pasture in Northern Kenya. 

Parts of Rift Valley and Central region are also bearing the brunt of the disaster. The Government says Sh1.5 Billion (Approx 18Million Dollars) was needed to minimize losses in the affected communities who have yet to recover from recent droughts. "We need to implement contingency intervention measures, start an immediate livestock purchase off-take programme, acquire veterinary drugs for the migrating animals and a monitoring programme," says the Kenya's Livestock Minister, Hon. Mohamed Kuti

The funds will also be used to provide water to the affected areas in order to prevent the crisis that was witnessed in 2009 where thousands of cattle died on their way to the Kenya Meat Commission slaughter houses in Athi River. He said the country was experiencing adverse weather conditions which threaten more than 22 million livestock. On his part, Livestock Assistant Minister Aden Duale appealed to the crisis centre in the Prime Minister's office to respond to the plight of the people facing starvation. "We are asking the PM's crisis centre to respond to the need of the pastoral communities.This involves provision of food to the people in the 14 affected counties as well as livestock feed for their animals," said the Dujis MP. 

The Kenya Red Cross secretary general Abbas Gullet said the effects are widespread and devastating and appealed to the government to declare the drought a national disaster in order to enable mobilization of resources to combat the situation. Gullet said a nationwide and international appeal campaign to help raise funds to assist drought hit population will be launched soon. Among the most affected areas are Garissa, Ijara, Tana river, Marsabit, Isiolo, Wajir, Mandera and Samburu are also affected. The counties of Kitui, Makueni, Machakos, Kajiado and Narok could also be affected as they received low rainfall. Pastoralists who depend on cattle for their food and income have to drive their livestock hundreds of kilometres to seek pasture and water.

Drought: Can this perennial problem be put to an end

Soon after being appointed as a minister in the water ministry docket, Hon. Charity Ngilu made a whirlwind tour in various arid areas of the country to get a first hand experience about the problems residents face. North Eastern region with a perennial history of drought and famine was a focal point on her itinerary. During the tour, she came face to face with the stark reality facing residents of this region who were forced to drink stagnant and contaminated water due to an acute scarcity of the precious commodity.

After her shocking experience, she promised to put more efforts to see to it that this problem was considerably reduced and the residents enjoyed the benefits of clean drinking water. Fast forward 2011, even this contaminated is no where to be seen as the drought has for the umpteenth time made its way again. Thousands of people are at the risk of starvation while hundreds of livestock- the main economic mainstay for the region-are dying in large numbers due to the scarcity of water and pasture. Experts are now saying that this could be worst drought the region is facing since 1996. As has been the case whenever such events occur, residents are walking for tens of kilometers in search of the precious commodity. 

Even after the minister made a resolve to improve the situation of water scarcity in the region, for the residents, they have not witnessed any meaningful changes as it remains the same situation whenever drought appears. Ironically during the rainy season, flooding also happens to be a perennial activity. While the raging waters cause mayhem with its massive destructive powers, little is done to harness this water which can be used to mitigate the effects of the drought during the dry season. While the water minister has made extensive drought mitigation measures in her Ukambani heartland but she did not lived up to her pledge to address the water problem in Northern Kenya should have been given priority as it is the region which suffers most in terms of water scarcity.

Forty seven years after independence, little has been done to help reduce this problem which whenever it surfaces, it comes with devastating consequences. It can be argued that the climatic conditions of the area are the main driving cause for this problem but while this could be a factor, with proper planning and mitigation measures the problem can be lessened and the deaths resulting from starvation and massive depletion of livestock could be saved.

Construction of additional dams and water pans, sinking of boreholes harnessing the waters of Tana River through irrigation would have gone a long way to save many residents from the devastating effects of the drought.

Additionally, measures should be explored on how to harness the huge water potential lying a few feet under the ground in Wajir. This is an area where the water table is within easy reach and this water can be exploited for the benefits of the residents. Livestock is the main economic activity in the arid areas and this resource sustains the livelihood of a majority of the residents. 

Successive governments has pledged to construct a major meat production factory in the region which could be an economic boon for the region. In times of drought, the herders would be in a position to sell of their animals instead of watching helpless as they fall dead on the wayside as is the case now. Being on the table for many years, nothing has materialized leaving the residents failing to exploit this resources for themselves. The factory continue to remain a pipe dream and the economic benefits of livestock production continue to be lost to the drought. It is high time that the authorities walk the talk in implementing crucial policies and legislations which could assist in mitigating the perennial effects of the drought. 

The region has suffered immensely in terms of water scarcity and food insecurity and the onus falls upon the government to institute long term measures to end this problem which appears-as the current scenario suggest-does not have an end.