October 19th 2017

Society / Environment

Drying rivers leave millions thirsty, hungry and ailing throughout Kenya

In Butula, wells streams have dried up, forcing residents to rely on the Suo River. In parts of the North Rift, schools could be shut down. A journalist from Elgeyo Marakwet who just returned to Nairobi from December holidays informed this website that many springs had dried up in the region.

By Phillip MuleeSaturday, 14 Jan 2017 15:22 EAT

A woman fetches water from a pan in the dry fields.

Nairobians are justifiably engrossed in stories of the biting water rationing by the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC) due to reduced levels in the Ndakaini Dam (which provides most of the city's water) and other sources supplying the city. The company's Managing Director Philip Gichuki has said the rationing will run from January 1 to April, when the long rains are expected. The CEO had said that the failed short rains have resulted to the Aberdare catchment getting below average. NCWSC has taken short-term measures as closing down car wash points to minimize water usage.

However much Nairobians will suffer before the long rains, the city is, by and large, the most watered part of Kenya, with 6,000 private boreholes that supplement the water provided by NCWSC. Away from cluster regions in the Central Highlands, the Coast Basin and the Lake Victoria Basin, much of Kenya's land mass comprises of arid and semi arid lands. And the situation has never been worse, with millions facing water scarcity and hunger, according to official and anecdotal information collected by the Kenya Free Press.

The acute water shortage around the country has seen price hikes of foodstuffs due to crop failure and prolonged drought, and is a major contributor to the rise in underlying inflation. Residents in eleven counties are faced with starvation and are in urgent need of relief food after being hit hard by crop failure, which Devolution Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri says is getting worse. The livestock industry is particularly at risk, since the Coast, which is usually the grazing fall-back region, is also experiencing severe drought.

A Cabinet memorandum adopted last November after a multisectoral and intergovernmental planning process agreed to set up three phases of Sh21.4 billion interventions that are to end in July. Mr Kiunjuri is banking on the Cabinet memorandum, but so far the interventions have not lived to the task as there is no programme on the ground to forestall more suffering. Mr Kiunjuri says the Devolution ministry, with the support of the European Union, had since August released Sh190 million to help 15 counties fight drought which is far below the demand.

On Thursday, Mr Kiunjuri said the short rains were too weak to have had any impact on the country. “Poor short rains last year followed an equally poor long rains season,” he added. Despite assuring that maize, beans, rice, sorghum and millet stocks would last to June, all is not well in hard-hit counties. “A bi-monthly regular cash transfer to 97,000 households in Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit and Turkana, with help from the UK Department for International Development, is ongoing,” he said, adding that every family was entitled to Sh5,400 per transfer.

The cabinet secretary for water Eugene Wamalwa who also spoke on intervention measures the government was putting in place said the government would scale up food and cash relief, improve access to water and health, provide livestock feeds and improve storage of harvests. The two CSs and principal secretaries from various ministries spoke as leaders across the country said Kenyans were suffering and asked the government to declare the drought a national disaster.

In Turkana County, Loima MP Protus Akuja and former Turkana Central MP Immanuel Imana say animals were dying in their thousands in Turkana North, Kibish, Turkana West and parts of Loima sub-counties that do not have permanent rivers. "The county government should ask for support in feeding its people,” Mr Akuja said. Hundreds of pastoralists have migrated to Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia. The elderly, women and children left behind are feeling the effects of the drought.

Officials say that more than 650,000 residents are in need of relief food. The worst hit is West Pokot County and Tiaty Sub-County in Baringo. “The drought has increased school dropout rates and the situation is likely to deteriorate if the government and other agencies do not come to our rescue,” Mr Martin Sembelo, the West Pokot Kenya National Union of Teachers executive secretary, said. Schools in parts of Samburu County remained closed in the first week of the term as drought ravaged the region. Many primary and day secondary school learners are still at home.

In Butula in Busia County, several wells and previously permanent streams have dried up, forcing residents to rely on the Suo River. In parts of the North Rift, schools could be shut down. A journalist from Elgeyo Marakwet who just returned to Nairobi from December holidays informed this website that many springs had dried up in the region. In Homa Bay County, the maize harvest from the last two seasons would not take regular families mid-way to the next harvest, and the region is experiencing an unprecedented dry spell. The drought has not spared parts of Nyeri County, where the Agriculture executive in the county government Robert Thuo recently said nearly 25,000 residents were in danger of starving.

In Marsabit, the Red Cross Society said it would provide Sh3,000 to each of the 900 families with malnourished children in North Horr and Laisamis sub-counties. Upper Eastern Red Cross coordinator Talaso Chucha said the money would be disbursed from Saturday. Ms Talaso said screening of children under five in Loiyangalani, Marsabit Central and North Horr sub-counties last November showed that many were in dire need of food.In Garissa County, the government has asked the residents to take their animals at risk of dying to a livestock off-take programme launched Thursday.

Speaking at the livestock market when he officially launched the programme, Mr Hassan Jelle, a top official with the Kenya Meat Commission, said the government had injected Sh170 million into the scheme, which was in its first phase.

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