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Drought in northern Kenya: ‘Today you are rich, tomorrow you have nothing’


Drought in Kenya

Kalokol, northern Kenya: children collect water from holes dug in a dry riverbed. The town’s only other water source is a defunct borehole. Photograph: Jessica Hatcher for the Guardian


Powered by article titled “Drought in northern Kenya: ‘Today you are rich, tomorrow you have nothing'” was written by Jessica Hatcher in Lodwar, for on Wednesday 30th July 2014 05.59 UTC

This time last year, Samuel Aboto had 600 goats; today, he has none. “I am not exaggerating – everybody knew my goats,” he says as he shelters from the sun under a thatch of reeds. Twenty-six months of drought has hit pastoralists in northern Kenya hard, and Aboto is facing the fourth poor rainy season in a row. The last good rain in Nayanae’angikalalio, central Turkana, was between March and May 2012.

Two weeks ago, there was one small shower. Aboto points to an outcrop across a few miles of tawny sand and scrub. “There,” he says, jabbing with his finger. A line of camels cross the horizon, the only animals the land can currently support.

Aboto, who has four scrawny sheep remaining, draws a comparison to three years ago, when drought triggered a famine in Somalia and almost 4 million Kenyans were at risk of starvation (pdf). “It was almost the same as this,” he says. “That was a combination of lack of grass and disease; this time it’s just drought.”

The findings of a Kenyan nutrition survey, published this month by the health ministry in consultation with the UN and NGOs, have alarmed experts. In the most vulnerable arid and semi-arid regions, which span about 80% of the country, one in four children is acutely malnourished and requires medical attention.

Overall malnutrition rates in Turkana, Baringo and Mandera counties, and in the west of Wajir, have deteriorated significantly, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). A malnutrition rate of more than 15% is classified as a critical emergency by the World Health Organisation; in many parts of Kenya it exceeds 20%. “The survey found truly alarming levels of malnutrition,” says Challiss McDonough, a WFP spokeswoman.

In Turkana Central, the rate of moderate and severe acute malnutrition is 60% higher than a year ago, according to Kenya’s health ministry. Last year, 17% of those surveyed – pregnant women, nursing mothers and under-fives – were acutely malnourished. That proportion has risen to 29%.

Drought in Kenya

Women listen to elders discussing drought in Nayanae’angikalalio, Turkana Central. Residents say the village has not had adequate rainfall since May 2012. Photograph: Jessica Hatcher

Aside from drought, numerous factors are affecting access to food in Kenya’s arid north, where the majority of people are pastoralists. Rapidly increasing populations have piled pressure on resources, and people have become less mobile. During a dry spell, herders once moved freely across the borders of Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda in search of fresh pasture. These days, national and regional boundaries, and the proliferation of small arms along them, have made it risky to do so.

Cattle raiding is out of control on some borders. “Conflict in the south and east [of Turkana County] is not traditional cattle rustling. It has become commercialised. There are businesses; men and women waiting to load [the cattle] and take them to market,” says the deputy county governor, Peter Lokoel. It must be understood, he says, that conflict is contributing to malnutrition rates across the county, especially either side of Turkana’s southern border. “Today you are rich; tomorrow you have nothing,” he says, referring to the clashes between raiders in Turkana and Pokot.


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