As Kenya’s drought continues, children, mothers remain at risk

The drought in Kenya is expected to worsen through October, and malnutrition among women and children remains very serious. However, many hope that rains expected later in October through December will bring some much-needed relief.

Story by Lucy Murunga. Edited by Shawna Templeton. Photo by Jon Warren.
Published September 8, 2011 at 12:00am PDT

Drought conditions are likely to persist into October in Kenya’s pastoral and southeastern lowlands, a report warns.

The Long Rains Food Security Assessment conducted by the Kenya Food Security Steering Group reports that pastoralists in the north, northeast, east, and south regions are currently under severe food stress after two consecutive failed seasons of rain.

More livestock lost, food prices rise

The assessment cites a sharp decline in livestock production and increasing loss of livestock. As a result, there is little or no milk available, and food insecurity continues to deepen.

Conflict over scarce resources has also been cited as a factor that is deepening food insecurity. Heightened prices for food and non-food items are set to worsen the already precarious situation.

Some 3.75 million Kenyans face food insecurity, up from 3.2 million in August. An additional 478,000 refugees are also in dire need of emergency aid.

Young children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers at risk

Close to half a million children under 5, and pregnant and nursing mothers are currently affected by acute malnutrition. These levels are expected to increase if current trends are not immediately addressed, warns the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“The trend has been that the malnutrition rates have been on the rise, especially in the drought worst-hit districts…” explains Daniel Muhinja, a World Vision nutrition program officer.

Some good news: Rain expected later in the year

Preliminary forecasts predict that the country can expect normal rains in some regions and above normal or slightly enhanced rain in others, beginning later in October. Caroline Maua, World Vision’s national food security coordinator in Kenya, notes the preparations being made to capitalize on the anticipated rainfall.

World Vision has already trained farmers in Eastern Kenya on construction of rainwater harvesting structures, like terraces and small reservoirs that trap rainwater.

In collaboration with the government and other partners, World Vision is also promoting the use of drought-tolerant crops like sorghum, cowpeas, green grams, pigeon peas, millet, and cassava. “These crops are early-maturing and nutritious,” notes Maua.

However, rain will not lead to immediate relief. “Even though the rainfall will be normal, the people in the southeastern lowlands are not expected to have food until January or February 2012, when harvests from the short rains are expected,” Maua explains.

World Vision’s response

The World Food Program is providing food aid to about 2.8 million people. World Vision is complementing these relief efforts by responding to the immediate needs of 838,137 people with food, water, and supplemental nutrition.

An additional 160,000 refugees in the Dadaab refugee camp are being assisted with non-food items like hygiene and sanitation kits, blankets, mosquito nets, kitchen utensils, and buckets. Some 5,000 tents will benefit 30,000 Somali refugees, 20,000 of who are children.

Through a supplementary feeding program, World Vision nutrition reaches a total of 178,080 children who are under 5. Nearly 52,000 pregnant and nursing mothers are also receiving assistance.

More relief needed

Muhinja says that the initial target for the feeding program was all children under 5. However, due to limited resources, the program can only cater to children under 3.

“More funding is needed to reach many children, especially those between 3 and 5 years old,” he explains.

Security concerns have also been raised, especially in the Turkana region. Additionally, water shortage in schools — where feeding programs rely on clean drinking water to prepare food — remains a major concern. The schools must be equipped to accommodate additional students in areas where families are migrating.

Three ways you can help

Pray for children and families affected by this severe drought and the resulting food crisis. Pray that aid organizations like World Vision would gain access to those who need help the most.

Make a one-time gift to our Horn of Africa Food Crisis Fund. Your donation will multiply five times to help provide emergency food, healthcare, and other critical assistance to this suffering part of the world.

Speak out. Urge our legislators to prioritize the needs of those suffering from hunger.