Kenya: Dealing with drought

News and Press Release
Originally published
MOYALE, 17 December 2009 (IRIN) - Residents of Moyale in the upper eastern region of Kenya, along the border with Ethiopia, are used to unpredictable and mostly dry weather. "When the rains come, they are erratic," Rashid Karayu, chairman of the Golbo Integrated Development Programme, a local NGO, told IRIN.

Golbo is an administrative division in Moyale.

"Before, there was a lot of farming activity here but the rainfall was not reliable. People kept planting maize and beans but not getting any harvests and they gave up."

Recurrent drought has created a dependency on food aid, but the aid is also inadequate. "The food aid may be targeting 100 out of 700 needy households. then hunger and malnutrition becomes a common problem," he said.

Already, 28,000 households in Moyale rely on food aid under the emergency food aid programme and there are recommendations to increase the figure, the District Commissioner, Joshua Nkanatha, told IRIN. "The food prices in the stores are still very high," he said, adding that 80 percent of Moyale's food requirement is imported from neighbouring Ethiopia.

In Mandera, in the northeast, pasture and water supplies have improved slightly, increasing milk availability in households. However, this is still well below normal levels, said a , which noted that pastoral food security was unlikely to improve significantly in the short term as "most households have lost significant livestock and the remaining herds, consisting of immature animals, which survived the drought, are far from attaining desired productivity levels".

Livestock deaths at the onset of the short rains due to pneumonia are further expected to slow the recovery process. "High food prices continue to undermine household purchasing powers," according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. About three goats are being exchanged for a 90kg bag of maize in Wajir in the northeast - slightly better than the five required in Turkana.

Coping mechanisms

Nationwide, more than 500,000 animals are estimated to have died in the drought, at a cost of over US$260 million to the local economy, said Oxfam. "Many people are now voting with their feet and migrating to towns and cities in search of work and food," it said.

Some former pastoralists are hawking khat, clothes and fruit, Moyale's Drought Management Officer (DMO), Molu Dira Sora, told IRIN. "Those in the towns are working as Kenya Rungu [watchmen], and this is a basis of remittances," he said. "A bit of wildlife poaching to survive can also not be ruled out."

Sora said charcoal burning was on the rise. "Hardwood felling has also been reported, yet these trees take very long to mature."

Overgrazing has also been noted. "The livestock have been eating the grass even before it flowers, making it harder and harder to regenerate if there are no rains," he said. Gully erosion is prevalent in some locations such as Odda due to lack of vegetation cover.

Sora is not optimistic that the erratic rains will bring much relief. "The water-pan recharge is inadequate so if the rains stop they will dry up as most of the initial rains will be lost to seepage," he said. "Next year, we will still be trucking water."


Livestock off-take programmes were established in most of the northern areas during the drought, whereby pastoralists would sell their surviving herds to NGOs, which would then slaughter the animals and redistribute the meat to hungry families.

On slaughter days, there were a few surprises as the executive director of the Marsabit-based NGO, the Pastoralists Integrated Support Programme, Umuro Roba Godana, explained: "We observed something unusual; camel calves would come to the slaughter area and drink the blood drained from the goats. Surprisingly, this kept the young calves healthy."

Young animals are often killed to save lactating mothers.

Food voucher cards are also being handed out in parts of northern Kenya. In Marsabit and Moyale, 1,350 households are receiving 2,000 shillings (about $27) each, per month to buy food. Staff monitors randomly visit the households and the shops for assessment, Galm Qampise, of the regional NGO Community Initiative Facilitation and Assistance (CIFA), which is facilitating the programme, told IRIN. The venture, which started in July, ends in December.

A similar initiative is helping 1,050 conflict and drought affected families in Samburu, in the northwest. The monthly Sh1,000 (about $13) vouchers give beneficiaries direct control of donor money, Joseph Lepario, a programme officer with the local Samburu Community Support for Development NGO, told IRIN.

Nasieku Longobito, a mother of two from Angatarongai village on the outskirts of Maralal Town in Samburu, said the voucher was helping to supplement her meagre income from selling firewood. "My husband travelled to Nairobi to look for work after all our livestock was [stolen] by bandits," she said. At least she was now able to buy milk for her one-year-old child, she said.

Way forward

According to the Moyale DMO, Sora, there is a need for better timing and coordination of drought responses as well as their integration into development programmes. "For example, the livestock off-take programmes started long after many pastoralists had lost their livestock," he noted.

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a British think-tank, urged in a November report, Pastoralists' vulnerability in the Horn of Africa, Exploring political marginalization, donors' policies and cross-border issues, that pastoralist marginalization had to be addressed to improve their ability to recover before another drought hits.

"The problems pastoralists face in the Horn of Africa are structural, and protecting, building and rebuilding their livelihood assets requires an integrated approach to risk management that addresses the underlying causes of vulnerability. This means going beyond food or cash transfers," another recent ODI report recommended.

"Drought must be seen as a normal and often predictable event, and efforts must be focused on strengthening response capacity while at the same time continuing long-term development efforts," said the report, Taking drought into account: Addressing chronic vulnerability among pastoralists in the Horn of Africa.

At present, some 3.8 million people in Kenya need food aid, and the outlook is grim. According to FEWS Net: "No significant respite is expected until February 2010, when the impacts of improved livestock conditions manifest in northeastern pastoral districts and food supply increases from both the long and short rains harvests."

[This article is part of a special package "Another Kenya". For more reports: ]