The current severe underperformance of rain during the March to May long rain season has aggravated shortage of water and pasture, access to food, and disrupted farming activities across the arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) counties in Kenya. Mandera, Samburu and Baringo are among the counties in the alarm drought phase , and the situation in the latter two counties is expected to deteriorate according to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) .
ACTED has had presence in these counties , and can capitalize on existing contacts with communities, mobilizers, and County Government to implement emergency response program in response to the extended drought season.
2. Objective of the assessment
The objective was to assess the drought situation and priority needs in Mandera, Samburu and Baringo counties, as well as to identify appropriate emergency interventions.
The needs assessment was conducted between 15th and 24th May 2019, through 22 key informant interviews (KIIs), 15 focus group discussions (FGDs), and site observations across Baringo , Samburu and Mandera counties. To ensure gender-sensitive data collection, women were separated for women-specific questions and the cross-checking of priorities after each of the six mixed-gender focus group discussions in Baringo and Samburu. In Mandera, four FGDs were conducted with women only, three were conducted with males only, and two were mixed.
4. Key Findings
• Water access: In April, the average return distances to water points for both people and livestock increased compared to those recorded during the previous month and were above the recorded five-year average. The increase in distances was mainly attributed to the drying up of most surface water sources such as rivers, water
pans and dams as a result of the prolonged dry spell . In FGDs, the main challenge to accessing enough water reported by respondents was long distances to water sources.
• Water treatment: Reported levels of water treatment are low in all three counties. As water is consumed straight from the source, it increases the risk of contracting and spread of water-borne diseases. In FGDs, respondents noted that, whereas there is a general willingness to treat water, most households lack the requisite material (chlorine tabs) and financial resources. Additionally, it was reported that local suppliers do not stock water treatment chemicals in the region.
• Agriculture: The agricultural system has been under stress since March 2019. Usually, by mid-April all farmers have planted the crops that will provide the community with food for the months to come. At present, farmers across all three counties have prepared their lands, but the lack of rain has not allowed them to engage in planting at the usual rates. Only an estimated 20%-30% of farmers have planted any seeds in Samburu, and almost none of these have grown . Key informants in Mandera County reported an estimated 99% of crop failure due to the drying up of River Dawa that usually irrigates farms. This poses a serious threat to access to food at the household level. In Samburu, the County government had planned to issue seed as subsidy to affected households, but this is yet to take place as the ongoing drought will likely prevent seeds from reaching harvest.
• Livestock: The current livestock body condition has deteriorated compared to April due to the increase in trekking distances in search of pasture and water, combined with a decrease in pasture availability. Overall, the current body condition of most livestock, except for camels, is poor compared to other years. In Mandera, several carcasses of starved livestock were observed. This is alarming, because the vast majority of people rely on livestock for their livelihoods. Consequently, when livestock dies mortality rates of people are expected to rise. In addition, many herders have migrated with livestock in search for pasture , which is unusual because normally at this time of the year animals would be feeding in the wet season grazing areas close to homesteads . This has decreased the accessibility of milk at the household level, further harming food security.
• Economic security: Markets are functional, but do not provide sufficient relief for food needs. This is attributed to the current poor terms of trade, as livestock value has gone down with declining body conditions, while food prices have increased due to scarcity. At the same time, the fact that farms are dormant has eliminated usual opportunities for casual labour to complement household income, such as planting and weeding at crop farms. Consequently, the affected population currently faces low purchasing power.
• Food Security and Nutrition: Livestock and agriculture are the main sources of income and food, but both are currently under heavy stress. In Mandera, the closure of the Kenya-Somalia border due to insecurity has further limited access to food, as most staple food enters Mandera from Somalia. The drop in food and milk availability, as well as a drop in the variety of foods consumed, has negatively affected the household nutrition status, especially for children. In Samburu, 26.7% of children are at risk of malnutrition, in Mandera this is 26.3% and in Baringo 14.8%. The trend in all three counties is worsening .
• Gender-Based Violence: The lack of sufficient food has brought conflict over resources to the household level across the three counties. Moreover, in Baringo and Samburu, men perceive providing food and water to the family as the sole duty of women. Combined with men’s frustration of economic losses and prevalence of substance abuse, this has led to a stark increase in gender-based violence towards women. Participants of female-only FGDs in Baringo and Samburu expressed that the situation was more severe than usual and attributed the increase of domestic violence directly to the food scarcity inflicted by the drought.
• Other protection issues: FGD participants reported women are affected disproportionately by the drought, as they are culturally obliged to provide water to their households, but the dry spell has significantly increased trekking distances to water. The long walking distances while carrying heavy loads of water are especially problematic for pregnant women and those who just gave birth. Female FGD participants across the three counties mentioned their perception that the long distances and heavy loads are linked to miscarriage. Moreover, several FGDs in Mandera and one FGD in Samburu reported the risk of attacks by wildlife for women collecting water. Finally, as many young, able-bodied men have migrated with the livestock in search of pasture and water, many of the most vulnerable persons (including women, children, people with disabilities, and the elderly) are left behind without livestock and milk, and with minimal access to water and food. When villages are raided for resources, these vulnerable groups are left exposed, with detrimental consequences in terms of protection .
• Conflict dynamics: As the drought has diminished every resource that the communities rely on, i.e. water, food, pasture and livestock, it has been associated with increased violent conflict over resources between communities. This has further restricted the access to already limited supplies of water and pasture.