Drought response in Kenya: what comes next?

Caleb Wafula | November 29, 2017

Much of the Horn of Africa is reeling from the effects of what has probably been the worst drought in the recent years. In Kenya, for instance, the situation has been so dire that in February the national government declared the unprecedented drought a national disaster. An estimated 2.7 million people from 23 of the nation’s 47 counties were reported to be at risk of starvation, and persistent pastoral conflicts are contributing to further this deterioration.

Thanks to the support of our donors, CWS was at the center of the drought response. We provided immediate assistance in Baringo, Turkana, West Pokot and Tana River counties through distributions of food and other supplies as well as Cash for Work programs.

Our response reached 1,450 households that were chosen as being particularly vulnerable and affected. Each family received more than 37 pounds of maize flour, 26 pounds of maize and 17 pounds of beans in addition to cooking oil, salt and two jerry cans for storing water.

We also set up a Cash for Work program, which means that participants worked on infrastructure projects that helped mitigate the drought and prevent future, similar situations. Of course, they were paid for their work. Through mobile money transfers, participants received $750 each for about 15 days of work, and this money helped ensure that they could buy food and other supplies needed to get through the current drought. In this case, the projects included clearing roads and reviving water systems. For example, participants desilted community water pans, and those water pans are now being used to store water for household, livestock and small-scale agricultural purposes.

Despite these achievements, the worst is likely yet to come.

Disasters like drought are becoming more frequent and more powerful. This means that hunger and starvation will likely continue to spread and deepen in the long term. The situation is exacerbated by other factors like perennial conflicts and economic volatility. Needless to say, the risks facing agro-pastoral and pastoral communities are significant. But how can we help?

There has never been a more urgent need to tackle the issue of climate vulnerability like there is now. We can’t say this enough: the need to reposition at-risk communities to better weather future climate challenges is paramount.

One of the chief ways we can do this is through our Disaster Risk Reduction program, which revolves around supporting local communities prone to recurrent climatic shocks to rebound more swiftly, overcome adversity and become more resilient.

There is huge potential in these areas for livestock resources. So, our program includes a number of projects that are aimed at empowering and inspiring the agro-pastoral and pastoral communities to be catalysts of innovation and the drivers of sustainable solutions that will address their climatic vulnerability over the next 18 -24 months. For example, through this program, our team will support communities as they develop strategic reserves of fodder like Rhodes or Brachiaria grass – which requires less water to grow – that will be used for feeding livestock and also sold as an alternative source of income. Other parts of the program include using cross-sector partnerships to build an insurance base that will compensate pastoralists in the event that they lose livestock in a disaster; developing products such as honey as incomes and food sources and the CWS REFLECT program that helps communities build self-reliance.

The worst may be yet to come, but with our support communities will be better positioned to face the storm…in whatever form it takes.

Caleb Wafula is the Information Specialist with CWS’s Relief, Development and Protection program in Africa.