Recurring droughts have significantly impacted livelihoods and economic development in Kenya. The frequency of these events is increasing; for example, from 1993 the Government of Kenya has declared drought as a national disaster 7 times. These declarations were during the droughts of 1992-93,1996-97, 1999-2000, 2005-06, 2008-09, 2010-2011 and 2016-2017.
Not only has the frequency of the drought events increased to every 2 -3 years, the severity has also increased in terms of the total population affected and the humanitarian aid needed for response (Table 1). According to the post-disaster needs assessment conducted by the Kenya Government, the 2008-2009 and the 2010-2011 drought events affected a total of 3.7 million people and caused $12.1 billion in damages and losses. The 2016/2017 drought event affected 23 of 47 counties, where 2.7 million people were declared to be food insecure and 357,285 children and pregnant and lactating mothers were acutely malnourished.
Following the 2010-2011 devastating drought, the Kenyan Government launched a Medium Term Plan for Drought Risk Management and Ending Drought Emergencies (EDE) for 2013-2017. The EDE commits to end drought as an emergency by the year 2022, by strengthening institutional and financial frameworks for drought risk management. To this end, the EDE established the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) with a mandate to provide leadership and coordinate drought risk management plans, interventions, policies and stakeholders across national and county levels. To address the challenges of financing drought management, the EDE established the National Drought Contingency Fund (NDCF). The fund allows the pooling of resources from different actors.
Amongst NDMA’s responsibilities is monitoring of drought conditions by establishing and operating a Drought Early Warning System (DEWS) in 23 Arid and Semi-Arid Counties. The DEWS aggregates data and information monthly from sentinel sites and key sectors like education, agriculture, health, livestock and health. Currently, the DEWS monitors biophysical, production, access and utilization indicators (Table 2). Biophysical indicators are used to monitor progression of the drought hazard while production, utility and access indicators monitor the impacts of the drought. For each indicator, thresholds are set to define three drought stages: alert, alarm and emergency.
The use of observed indicators to monitor and define drought stages and to trigger funding from the National Drought Contingency Fund (NDCF) means the drought management system is reactive and not anticipatory. The integration of weather and climate forecast in the system can shift the system to be anticipatory and hence better inform actions to reduce the impacts of droughts on the economy as well as on vulnerable communities before the droughts occur.