Drought in Kenya…we’ve got to do more
By Regina Mbochi
On the week of 13th March 2017 Save the Children, UNICEF, WFP, and the Turkana County Department of Health carried out a joint visit to Kibish and Turkana North, in Turkana County, to assess the nutrition situation and the general effects of the drought on the population in Turkana.
“There is a lot of hunger and suffering, especially in Kibish, in Turkana County in northern Kenya. At one of the health centres where Save the Children is providing logistical and technical support, so many children and women looked hungry and visibly emaciated,” says Regina, Nutrition Specialist at Save the Children
The children kept themselves busy singing as they waited for feeding time. There were some beans cooking but, when I looked at the number of children waiting, I asked myself what portion of beans and rice each child would end up getting. We were informed that large numbers of people gather at the Early Childhood Centre (ECD) for meals. It is the only food available for most of the households, but the food cannot feed everyone.
Regina says: “While we were waiting for the outreach services to begin, some women came with a heap of animal carcasses, and piled them in front of us. I guess this was to emphasize how much the drought had affected them. It was a very scary moment, and we felt very helpless.”
At the center, there was an elder who had initially refused to allow outreach services to begin. His point being that this is not the time to choose which children to give food and those not to give. This is a clear indication that blanket feeding for all the children is what is needed and not targeted feeding.
Much more needs to be done, especially on food security and livelihoods. The situation for the pastoralist community is getting worse as they continue losing their livestock to the drought.
The animals have to walk long distances to drink water, and then walk back to the grazing fields. Many of the animals die on the way, as they are already too weak and emaciated, and with no energy to trek the vast fields between water points and pasture. The county government is already investing in water trucking to some of the sites, but many communities are struggling without access to clean drinking water. We also need to do more to ensure that schools and health facilities can continue to function.
The drought has left many of the residents of Turkana County destitute. The crisis has hit pastoralists particularly hard: their animals are dying and those that remain have moved to faraway lands in search of pasture and water, leaving the children with no milk, an important component of the children’s diet in the region. This means that even when it rains the people may not be in a position to recover and will continue to suffer unless they get external assistance from the government and humanitarian agencies. More needs to be done right now, before the drought reaches catastrophic levels and results in the deaths of children, as was witnessed in 2011. We cannot afford to lose any lives, we have to help these people by addressing their most immediate needs and support them to recover once the drought is over. We must protect children from an already grave situation becoming much worse.
Save the Children launched initial response activities for the HoA drought response in February 2017 in Turkana, Wajir and Mandera, responding mainly in Nutrition, Health and WASH sectors. Activities under the response include: logistical and technical support for integrated Health and Nutrition outreaches, general hygiene promotion, distribution of water purification sachets, water trucking, coordination and advocacy. Save the Children intends to scale up the response to other sectors, but funding remains the biggest barrier to a full-spectrum response. Save the Children calls on the international community to fundraise for the drought in Kenya. Urgent action is needed now to avoid a repeat of the 2011 scenario and the preventable deaths that occurred.