Field Exchange Apr 2001: Kenya drought emergency operation 1999 - 2001

Response to SCF Wajir Article

By Emma Naylor, humanitarian programme coordinator, Oxfam GB Kenya Programme

Oxfam Great Britain has been working in Kenya since the 1960s, and in Wajir District since the 1980s, implementing relief and long-term development programmes.

Oxfam Great Britain has been the lead agency for food distribution in Wajir since June 2000. Oxfam GB also implements drought mitigation and response activities across Kenya in various sectors, including water, livestock and nutrition. While agreeing with the main points of the SC(UK) article on Wajir, I do think that there is a need to place the problem in perspective.

A serious drought has been affecting Kenya since 1999. Many communities describe the drought as the worst they can remember. Emergency food aid operations began in some districts by December 1999. The joint World Food Programme - Government of Kenya operation (EMOP) initially targeted 1.7 million people in 18 districts from March to June 2000. Distributions began in the four worst affected districts (Turkana, Moyale, Mandera and Marsabit) in March/April, and by June twelve districts, including Wajir, were receiving food. With the failure of long rains in April, the situation worsened and the EMOP expanded to cover 2.2 million people in 19 districts from June - December 2000.

Decisions on where and how to intervene were taken based on the best available local information, including reports from the coordination system, assessments, local situation reports and early warning bulletins. Throughout this process attempts were made to use standard criteria for intervention across districts. Many of the districts, Wajir in particular, have been plagued by a series of climatic emergencies in the past decade, and suffer from very high levels of chronic poverty. In this context, it was very challenging to try to distinguish between the effects of chronic vulnerability and drought shock. Seasonal factors are also complex - in a normal dry season in North-eastern Kenya, child malnutrition rates often peak at a level that it is considered serious according to recognised cut-off points.

The short rains due in October 2000 were poor again. In this light, a revision to the EMOP was proposed to extend the life and scope of the EMOP. It is now likely to run at an expanded level (up to 4.4 million beneficiaries) until at least June 2001.

Alongside the EMOP, the school-feeding programme has been expanded. In addition to general ration distribution, supplementary feeding was planned for all affected districts and implemented as resource constraints allowed, as well as interventions in other sectors such as health, water, livestock and education.

This operation represents an enormous investment of resources, as well as initiating new ways of working at every level. National and district level coordination structures have been used to manage a major emergency for the first time.1 These coordination mechanisms have attempted to build on learning from previous interventions by taking on major initiatives such as food security assessment and geographical targeting. In the implementation of the programme, standardised approaches have been adopted such as community based targeting and distribution.

The way of working has been a step forward for Kenya. The single-delivery system has meant that resources have been prioritised according to need and delivered reasonably consistently.

However, resources are never enough, and slow arrival of food aid did make this operation less effective than it could have been. Oxfam GB had planned for blanket distributions of Unimix to vulnerable groups in Wajir in June 2000, but was not able to implement this until August due to resource constraints. Nevertheless, given the seriousness of the drought, the fact that the humanitarian situation is not much worse is a reflection of just how much has been learnt from the past.

1 As highlighted in the article by Robin Wheeler "Development of Kenya Food Security Coordination System (KFSCS)"