Drought in Kenya

from Practical Action
Published on 04 Jul 2011 View Original

Kenya is experiencing a prolonged drought. Lack of rain earlier in the year has caused crops to fail. The humanitarian consequences of the prolonged drought being experienced in most arid and semiarid areas have increased since the onset of what climatologists refer to as La nina. This has greatly reduced water, pasture and food in most areas in northern Kenya. Mandera and Turkana, where we work, have been negatively affected in recent months. Cattle herders are struggling to keep their herds alive.


The current drought can be attributed to poor rains in October through December 2010. The effect of the drought has been compounded by incomplete recovery of pasture following the 2009 drought. According to the results of the Kenya Food Security Steering Group assessment report of May 2011, the situation is getting worse with each passing day. There is a deterioration of drought conditions which have led to rapid depletion of pasture and water for livestock, increased migration of livestock and eroded food security, especially for pastoralists. With drought set to worsen as the arid lands enter a dry spell after the failed rains, access to water and pasture will be extremely stretched – a situation which will only lead to further stresses for livestock. It is widely expected that the food beneficiary population will increase from 3 million people to up to 4 million. For example, Mandera, Rhamu and Elwak did not receive enough rainfall as expected. The spatial distribution was also erratic. The areas have not received rains in the last 90 days.

The weight of the problem is already discernible. The Ministry of Livestock Development has reported livestock deaths in several hard-hit areas. The report indicates that the situation could deteriorate. Many other hundreds of livestock are also reported to have become exceedingly weak, further complicating the lives of their owners.

The government and development partners now acknowledge the urgent need to address both the humanitarian needs and assist the affected populations. It has been announced that the Ministry of Water and Irrigation will get additional funds amounting to KES 600million (GBP 4.4m GBP) so as to effectively respond to current drought. In order to cushion livestock owners from incurring hefty loses, the Government allocated KES 1 billion (GBP 7.4m) to the Ministry of Livestock of which Sh500m (GBP 3.7m)will be used for livestock off-take and the balance to be channelled through the Agricultural Finance Corporation.

It is estimated that the money would supply water, provision of livestock feed supplements, vaccination of animals and buying of stock from the herders and building capacity for fodder production. According to experts, animals are susceptible to disease during this dire time since massive movement of livestock in search of pasture and water and concentration in the few water sources would lead to outbreak and spread of animal diseases. Therefore vaccination and treatment would ensure the animals have a better chance of surviving the dry period. Stakeholders need to provide more water trucking services in the region to facilitate better access for residents and their livestock.

The effects of the prolonged drought have affected other sectors too. According to UNOCHA, Malnutrition mortality rates in northern Kenya have exceeded emergency thresholds. The 2011 Nutrition surveys indicate a deterioration of health in 11 northern districts where global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates are recorded at 24-37 per cent and severe acute malnutrition rated at 3-9 per cent. Food insecurity has deepened in northern districts where drought impacts have worsened in past months. This situation is expected to continue to deteriorate with the continuing drought.

Cross-border insecurity is rife in the larger Karamoja cluster border regions where mobility in search of water and pasture forms a core of pastoral livelihoods during this dry periods. More than 125 people were recorded killed in Kenya in cattle rustling incidents between January and June 2011. Cattle raids have been aggravated in the recent past by the proliferation of small arms, sometimes linked to competition over resources sharing. This is now deeply rooted in clan-based politics and is supported by some communities as a form of wealth acquisition/restocking in times of drought.

The education sector has also been affected. The current drought has led to an influx of students in some schools and a high dropout rate in communities that are migrating.

There is an urgent need for livestock off take (destocking) as a mitigation measure against severe losses as drought impacts continue to ravage the pastoral livelihoods system in the arid lands. An urgent off take will ensure that pastoralists at least salvage capital assets from the sale of the livestock while still alive and possibly contribute to the household food security from the off take initiative.

What is Practical Action doing?

While helping the affected population to cope with the present drought through agencies already working on the situation and reducing its impact, Practical Action is supporting by mobilising resources to ensure that in the communities where we work there is:

  1. Scaling up destocking for food and commercial livestock off-take in the coming 2-6 weeks when body conditions of the small livestock goats and shoats are expected to still be in good conditions. The affected populations can also be supported to reduce the distances covered in search of water to bearable dimensions, not necessarily by drilling more boreholes but by for example, piping water closer to homes from far away boreholes. Simple technologies for water purification and treatment and energy saving technologies also need to be adopted.

  2. Disease surveillance and control.

  3. Encouraging long-term interventions in the livestock sector as a solution to addressing drought impacts. These activities may include work to rehabilitate water sources, installing solar water pumps at strategic boreholes, training for community-based repair technicians for repair of borehole pumps when they break down, supporting the development of a fast moving spare part local enterprise, and promotion of pasture establishment and storage for use in the dry season.

  4. Since drought is a cyclic phenomenon in this region, Practical Action can help replicate lessons learnt from Peru on disaster mitigation - in Mandera especially, in the area of drought risk mapping, development of community based drought mitigation plans and building capacity for local communities to participate in drought related decision making at the grassroots level.