ISIOLO/MANDERA, 6 April 2011 (IRIN) - Thousands more heads of livestock have died in Kenya's arid Northeastern province as La Niña drought conditions worsen and water shortages become more acute. [ http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=37941&Cr=East+Africa&Cr1= ]
Drought monitoring and assessment reports indicate that the hardest-hit areas are Marsabit, Moyale and Mandera. Livestock farmers in the three regions have lost more than 17,000 animals since January, according to officials from the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) and the government's Arid Lands and Resource Management Project (ALRMP).
Mass deaths of livestock began in February, but the average daily loss of animals has risen in the last three weeks as crucial water sources dried up. Many of the remaining water sources are contaminated, leading to increased incidents of water-borne diseases such as typhoid, amoeba and diarrhoea.
A recent assessment by the UN found that the drought ravaging East Africa had left eight million needing food aid, 1.2 million in Kenya.
KRCS Marsabit coordinator, Abdi Malik, told IRIN that many families are becoming increasingly vulnerable to hunger and hardships related to the crisis. "The most recent assessment conducted on the drought clearly shows that the situation is very serious compared to conditions in January," he said. "More than 70 percent of an estimated 300,000 people are affected now and the figure will rise unless it rains. We expect more animal deaths. Thousands are weak and the few water sources are drying up. Pasture everywhere is exhausted."
He added that the water shortage and depletion of boreholes had led to a mass migration of pastoralist families from Marsabit and Moyale to Forole in Ethiopia. He said the Red Cross was providing water to primary schools to prevent their closure and to support supplementary feeding programmes.
Jirma Duba, a resident from Marsabit, said water shortages had caused deadly conflicts. Fighting between the Rendille, Borana and Gabra communities over scarce water sources and grazing areas have resulted in the deaths of 12 people. A number of resource-related killings was also reported along the Isiolo and Samburu borders.
Thousands of residents from Mandera have also migrated from grazing areas and trading centres, according to the Rural Agency for Community Development and Assistance (RACIDA). Mohamed Dualle, coordinator of RACIDA, fears the situation will be even worse in April.
"We have not received a single drop of rain and yet the rains were expected two weeks ago. We are faced with a humanitarian crisis. A significant number of deaths, mainly of children, pregnant women and elderly people can be attributed to hunger, dehydration and lack of water," he said. "Banisa, a rich grazing area and a trading centre with more than 18,000 people and surrounded by 16 villages, is almost deserted now. The only dam which has served the whole population for last seven years dried up last week."
He added that livestock owners with large herds of animals had migrated to the nearest water point, 123km away, and livestock traders that have lost their businesses are also likely to move.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has appealed for more funds to deal with the crisis in the coming months. Josette Sheeran, the director, said WFP "has only 44 percent of the resources it needs to feed 5.22 million people in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and the Karamoja region of eastern Uganda from April to September". [ http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=37985&Cr=Horn&Cr1= ]
An increase in staple food prices, particularly in far-flung areas, has worsened the situation in Kenya, according to ALRMP: 1kg of beans in Sericho, Isiolo, has increased from 50 shillings to 80 shillings (US60 cents to about $1) since January and milk has risen from 40 shillings (50 cents) per litre to 60 shillings (72 cents) per litre.
Mass migration of pastoralists with their livestock has led to a shortage of animals in local markets, triggering a price increase and a loss of income for those whose livelihoods depend on the trade. In Mandera, Wajir and Garissa, households have had to sell three to four goats to purchase a 90kg bag of maize, rather than the average of one or two goats.
Hussein Ali, a local leader and an elder from Jericho, said water was even more costly than food in the area. "A 20l can of water is selling at 60 shillings. It's more expensive than a kilo of maize flour," said Ali. "A number of families have sent their children to the Daadab refugee camps to be registered as aliens from Somalia in order to get relief food."
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said drought conditions, once periodic in nature, had now become a "predictable emergency" and an emergency response was no longer sustainable. Pastoralist leaders said large-scale measures adopted by the government to address the crisis were insufficient and unsuccessful.
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