Humanitarian Response


The frequent failure of seasonal rains in Kenya means that drought is a recurrent and increasingly serious problem in many parts of the country. For families that rely on agriculture and pastoralism to earn an income, the effects have been devastating. Significant losses of livestock and crops are becoming more common as families have ever less time to recover from cycles of drought. Increases in global food prices have placed additional strain on households already struggling to afford enough food. As a result, the risk of food insecurity increases dramatically. When food insecurity developed into humanitarian crisis in 2011, 4.5 million people in Kenya needed urgent assistance1 and today 1.1 million people do not have access to the food they need. Resources such as water have been further stretched over recent years as a result of large influxes of refugees, predominantly from Somalia and South Sudan. This has led to localised conflict in the pastoral areas of north-east Kenya, further threatening children’s safety and well-being.

In any emergency it is children who suffer the most. Without enough nutritious food, children are at a high risk of becoming malnourished. This affects both their physical and mental development, and leaves them more likely to contract potential deadly illnesses such as diarrhoea. Social structures often break down and families become separated, leaving children more vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and child labor. The awful events that many children witness and experience during disasters can leave them in shock or traumatized.

Pupils from the Habaswein Mixed Secondary School’s Disaster Risk Reduction drama club give an educational performance to the community in Habaswein, north-eastern Kenya. Alongside our direct emergency work, we’re helping communities in drought-prone areas to prepare for future disasters.


As a dual mandate organisation, Save the Children is committed to providing the most vulnerable children and their families with urgent, integrated assistance in the event of an emergency. In a humanitarian response, we aim at meeting the needs of 20% of a disaster-affected population and 25% of disaster-affected children, while helping to build communities’ resilience to future shocks. To achieve this goal:

We are supporting children and their families to cope with disaster

In an emergency, basic supplies can be difficult to get hold of which is why one of our first priorities is to provide families with essential items such as emergency shelter material, bedding, household kits and clothing. We also distribute hygiene kits which include items such as water containers, so that families can keep clean and prevent disease, and chlorine tablets so that people can purify water safely.

We are protecting children from harm

Children are the most vulnerable in an emergency. If children are not kept safe and protected they are more likely to suffer from abuse and harm, and are less likely to get access to the basic services they need. Save the Children is a recognised world leader in child protection and we play a prominent role in the Interagency Child Protection Working Group in times of emergency. Our activities in an emergency may include:

  • Establishing child-friendly spaces where children can play in a protected environment while their families start to rebuild their lives;
  • Family tracing. We register children who arrive to refugee camps unaccompanied, and carry out family tracing using photos and videos that enable us to reunite separated children with their families;
  • Running community-based psychosocial programmes designed to reduce the negative impact on children’s emotional wellbeing;
  • Working with local authorities to restore, and where possible improve, basic child protection services in the community, including the training of protection workers

We are helping children to stay healthy

In an emergency, children’s access to adequate levels of nutritious food can be extremely limited, leaving them vulnerable to malnutrition and severe illness. With health facilities often stretched to breaking point, hunger-related deaths are likely to increase dramatically. When a disaster such as a food crisis does hit, Save the Children runs feeding programmes targeting the most vulnerable people including children.

In areas where malnutrition is prevalent, we scale up our nutrition work, and set up stabilisation centres and outpatient treatment clinics to treat cases of malnutrition. We also continue to promote the importance of good infant and young feeding practices such as exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life in the protective environment of Baby-Friendly Spaces within refugee camps. We also scale up our health work to ensure that children and their families have access to the care and treatment they need.

We are helping children to continue their education

Save the Children believes that children have a right to education, even in times of emergency. Schools are a key access point for a range of potential life-saving services such as healthcare. They are critical in giving children a sense of normality while minimising their vulnerability to abuse, exploitation and harm. Save the Children is a global leader in education and we co-lead the Emergency Education Cluster, which coordinates the education activities of relief organisations in an emergency. Our activities in an emergency may include:

  • Establishing temporary learning centres in the first few days following an emergency, giving children the opportunity to learn, play and get the care they need in a protective environment.
  • Supporting the set-up of temporary schools in the weeks following an emergency, enabling children to catch up on their education while minimising school drop-outs;
  • Working with local education authorities to restore, and where possible improve, basic and pre-school services, and working with teachers and communities to address the issues faced by children as a result of the humanitarian crisis.

We are protecting families from hunger in an emergency

In an emergency, we dramatically scale up our food security and livelihoods work so that the most affected families are supported to meet their basic food needs. Save the Children provides families with food vouchers and direct cash transfers to ensure they can have access to enough nutritious food and prevent malnutrition, while helping local markets to recover. In 2012, we supported the distribution of regular cash transfers to the poorest 14,000 families in Mandera and if another drought does hit, we’ll be best placed to provide life-saving support to the most vulnerable children and their families without delay. If markets are disrupted Save the Children carries out food distribution while supporting farmers to purchase essential items such as seeds and tools and repair essential infrastructure such as water points for animals.

We are building communities’ resilience to future disasters

Alongside our life-saving work in an emergency, Save the Children is working to provide families with buffers against future shocks. To do this, we are integrating Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) strategies into our work, as part of a resilience strategy. We are building awareness among disaster-prone communities of the hazards they face and working with communities to develop action plans to address these threats and build their resilience to withstand them. This involves working closely with children to ensure that they actively participate in these activities while empowering them to play an active part in strengthening DRR and CCA systems in their community.

To ensure that DRR and resilience has a strong basis for implementation at national level, we are working with the government to monitor seasonal hazards more effectively and strengthen early warning systems. By more accurately predicting, for example, when a drought might hit, we can ensure that pastoralist communities receive advance warning of risks. We can then assist them in taking timely preventive action, such as selling their livestock before the height of the drought, or vaccinating their herds to ensure they remain healthy in lean times, or prepositioning stocks of food and health supplies in case the threat of a crisis becomes a reality. In addition, we are working with the government at both the national and local level to develop contingency plans and we provide training to government officials on disaster preparedness through simulation exercises.

Save the Children staff load a truck with high-nutrient peanut paste to be delivered to nutrition outreach sites across north-eastern Kenya during the 2011 food crisis.