Faced with drought, northern Kenya is on the brink of famine
The Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years. In the region, at least 18 million people are starving.
In Kenya, four consecutive seasons of low rainfall have created the driest conditions since the early 1980s. Rivers are drying up, grasslands are turning to dust, killing more than 1.5 million head of cattle in the country.
These disasters have immediate impacts. In the country, hunger affects 4 million people. In the northern desert regions, around 950,000 children under five and 134,000 pregnant or breastfeeding women suffer from acute malnutrition.
In the three hardest-hit counties, including Marsabit, conditions are close to famine.
Drought, absent from presidential programs
The next presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for August 9 in Kenya. Overshadowed by “cost of living” issues, the drought is barely on the candidates’ agenda, according to AFP.
East Africa’s main economy is just recovering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Its fragile recovery is again hampered by drought and the impacts of the war in Ukraine, according to the World Bank.
Nationally, the fate of the far north of Kenya has passed.”under the rug“, estimates economist Timothy Njagi, contacted by AFP. “As we are in an election year, we would have [pourtant] could imagine that this would be a key topic of discussionregrets the member of the Tegemeo Institute for Agricultural Policy and Development in Nairobi.
In large cities, populations are threatening to boycott the August 9 election. Citizens are demanding a drop in essentials (food, gasoline, etc.)no food, no elections“.
Loss of trust in the government
Animal carcasses litter the rocky expanses around Purapul. In this village in the north of the country, families of shepherds try to survive without milk, meat or money to buy food.
Iripiyo Apothya, a breeder in the region, watched her goats lose weight and then die. “Now I eat what the monkeys eat“, sighs this 73-year-old lady, showing a handful of berries. She boils them and reduces them to a bitter paste, but worries about their survival: “Even that is running out. What can we do ?”
The village is just as often isolated in these forgotten northern regions. There is no school, no road, no shop, no dispensary. The nearest town, Loiyangalani, is 60 km away.
The two leading presidential candidates, William Ruto and Raila Odinga, came by helicopter to campaign in these drought-stricken regions. They promise infrastructure and development, but their stay was brief in these places where few votes must be won.
A state of national disaster due to drought has been declared since last September. Since then, the government claims to have spent more than 9 billion Kenyan shillings ($76 million). The deputy mayor of Loiyangalani in the northwest of the country guarantees: “We are going through difficult economic times. We are doing everything we can, within government means, to support communities“. Both candidates must assume the registration of the incumbent authorities. William Ruto has been vice president for nearly ten years and Raila Odinga is supported by the incumbent president.
“So it’s a lose-lose for anyone who touches the subject.“says Karuti Kanyinga from the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi.
According to Claire Nasike, from Greenpeace Africa, the promises of the two candidates to invest in water supply and agriculture remain very vague. “Concrete details on how they will deal with climate crises were not discussed.“, she sums up.
A weak international mobilization for their forgotten lands
If the forecasts of an upcoming rainy season are confirmed, this historic drought could continue into 2023. However, the mobilization of the international community remains weak on this issue. Today an appeal for aid funds in Ukraine raises $1.92 billion, nearly 86% of its target, according to the UN. On the other hand, the much smaller drought appeal in Kenya is only filled at 17%.
World Vision is one of the few charities that provide on-site assistance. James Jarso, one such representative declares: “The kind of help we offer is just a drop in the ocean.“.
- (Re)voir – Kenya: Surviving the Drought