Worsening drought puts 2.5m Kenyans at risk of starvation

Wednesday August 28 2019

Residents of Kakwanyang in Turkana County, Kenya, queue to get relief food on March 27, 2019, as hunger bites. More than 2.5 million Kenyans are facing starvation as drought and food security situation in the country continues to deteriorate. PHOTO | PETER WARUTUMO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By Collins Omulo

More than 2.5 million Kenyans are facing starvation as drought and food security situation in the country continues to deteriorate, says National Drought Management Authority (NDMA).

The agency, in its latest report, has said that the number of people currently facing acute food shortage stands at 2.6 million people, an increase from the estimated 1.6 million people as at May 2019 during the mid-season assessment.

Those in need of relief assistance has more than doubled from 1.1 million in February 2019, the report shows, with a warning that the figures could rise to above three million people by October.

Populations in the arid and semi-arid land (ASAL) areas are either facing a food crisis or an emergency situation, the report said.


The most affected counties are Turkana, Mandera, Baringo, Wajir, Garissa, Marsabit and Tana River, whose residents are predominantly herders. Others are Kitui, Makueni, Kilifi and Meru North, which are in the marginal agricultural and agro-pastoral regions.


“This means that households in these counties have moderate to large food consumption gaps and above usual acute malnutrition as a result of the prevailing drought or are only marginally able to meet minimum food needs by depleting essential assets or employing crisis and emergency coping strategies,” reads the report.

NDMA also warned that the number of households in dire need of food has been rising steadily since August 2018 with the situation worsening in July this year.

The assessment, the Acute Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), was conducted between June 1 and 19, this year in 23 ASAL counties including Turkana, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Lamu, Kwale, Kilifi, Tana River, Taita Taveta, Kitui and Makueni.

In addition to Embu (Mbeere), Nyeri (Kieni), Meru North, West Pokot, Baringo, Kajiado, Narok, Marsabit, Laikipia, Tharaka Nithi, Samburu and Isiolo.

“The analysis indicates that drought and food security situation has worsened across most parts of the country, especially in view of the poor performance of the previous season (October to December 2018),” the report states.

According to NDMA, the current situation has been caused by a below-average, delayed start and poor performance of the long rains season of between March and May, especially in pastoral and marginal agricultural areas.

The insufficient rains received in most ASAL counties during the season therefore led to low recharge of surface water sources such as water pans, shallow wells and dams with most sources holding less than 50 percent of their capacities.

“This may last only up to the end of August in pastoral areas and September in the marginal and agro-pastoral areas compared to October normally.”


The report further highlighted that prices of staple foods have been on the rise across ASAL counties since March 2019 with the prices rising by between 10 and 40 percent between April and July.

This is attributed to a decrease in supplies as stocks held by various actors locally declined following below average 2018 short rains harvests and reduced imports from Tanzania and Uganda.

The former occasioned by a long dry spell experienced in April after planting in late March which exposed crops to extreme moisture stress, leading to delayed planting and replanting in some parts of marginal agricultural areas.

There was also the attack by Fall Armyworms on maize reported in an estimated 5 percent of cropped area in Narok, Laikipia, Taita Taveta, Lamu and West Pokot counties.

“The armyworm infestation, coupled with poor rainfall performance and limited ability of poor households to procure control chemicals, is likely to lead to significantly below-average harvests in these areas,” stated the report.

However, the Authority said the government has set up a Drought Command Centre and developed a comprehensive drought response plan covering the whole country as state agencies continue to monitor how the October-December rainfall season will perform.

In April 2019, the National Treasury approved the supplementary allocation of Sh1.85 billion for response during the January to April 2019 period.