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Drought in Kenya declared a national disaster

© FAO Kenya/Martina Torma

Within a period of six months, the number of people in need of relief assistance has doubled to 2.7 million in February 2017 following the short rains assessment in Kenya’s drylands. Kenya’s president has declared the drought a national disaster.

The majority of the 2.7 million are the most vulnerable including the elderly, sick, mothers and children under five.  The situation is expected to worsen between now and April depending on the performance of the 2017 long rains.

Since the launch of the Food and Agriculture’s Organization (FAO) Early warning – Early Action Fund in December 2016 targeting the worst affected areas in Kenya’s coastal and northern counties (Kilifi, Kwale, Marsabit and Wajir) more counties have moved into the “alarm” phase.  

The food crisis has affected at least twenty-three out of Kenya’s fourty-seven counties in the upper region and dry parts of former Western, Nyanza and Central province. Ten are currently clustered in the “Alert phase” and thirteen in the “Alarm phase” but none are in the "Emergency phase"so far. Distribution of relief food which started in certain parts of the country last year continued well into January 2017 in the additional affected areas.

The country experienced two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall leading to the ongoing drought that has threatened food security of some of the country’s most vulnerable people. Critical pasture and water resources depletion has not only affected farms and pasture, but effects are now being felt in urban areas with water and electricity rationing.

The latest assessment report has identified drought affected pockets of counties that are not in the dry-lands such as Elgeyo-Marakwet, Bomet, Kisumu, Busia, Kakamega, Homa Bay and parts of central Kenya.

In Nairobi and other towns such as Nakuru, Water and Sewerage companies have effected rationing measures while one of Kenya’s main fresh water reservoirs, Ndakaini Dam which holds 70 million cubic meters is reported to have gone below fifty percent. Farmers – both agro and pastoralists are bearing the heaviest brunt.

Migration in search of pasture and water in Northern Kenya, coastal and eastern regions is reported, with cases of livestock succumbing to lack of forage and water on the rise.

Lack of forage

The latest data from the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) and the Predictive Livestock Early Warning System –  the latter being developed by FAO and Texas A and M University – indicates a severe lack of forage from February to the next long rains in 2017, expected in March/April 2017.

The Predictive Livestock Early Warning System is based on the Forage Condition Index (FCI) which uses satellite images to provide accurate monthly forage condition estimates for livestock. Developed by Texas A and M University using statistical forecasting methodology, the system generates forecast forage conditions for six months in advance, by simulating livestock species preference for forage in a competitive environment, using near real-time and historical climate data. It can discriminate non-palatable plants from palatable plants.

Current predictions by Kenya’s meteorological department indicate that the 2017 long rains may come early but will be depressed and below normal. Small-scale herders in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) are worst hit as livestock rearing can account for as much as 90 percent of employment and family income. 

Early Warning – Early Action fund and Government Action

FAO initially released a targeted early action fund of $ 400,000 through the Early Warning–Early Action funding mechanism. The funding goes towards training, vaccination, feed for animals as well as early commercial destocking (selling off animals while they are still healthy).

To date, key ministry decision-makers from the twenty-three ASAL counties have participated in training on the Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards, helping them identify the correct response at the right time for the neediest people. This aims to ensure that any future emergency funds provided by county or state governments are used effectively.

Support to Livestock Marketing Associations to facilitate offtake and the provision of emergency livestock feed supply system benefiting 10,000 households are currently being set up in the identified four counties. However, this represents just a small portion of those in need of assistance. Essential veterinary drugs and vaccines, as well as fast-moving spare parts for boreholes and water points are currently being purchased.

FAO is currently working with partners to support efforts to prepare for and mitigate the effects of a possible longer lasting drought in 2017. The government had set aside close to USD 50 million towards drought of which half had already been released by the end of last year. With the new figures, treasury has approved a further USD 106 million for the second phase from February to April.

FAO Action to mitigate/alleviate drought

The most current FAO estimates show more than 17 million people in need of emergency food in Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. This is the driest season experienced since 2011, with fears that the drought could escalate. Worst hit countries include Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Djibouti – adversely affecting regions where other social and economic factors such as political instability and poor infrastructure compound the impact.

A regional drought means migration options for pastoralists are limited and feed supply lines overstretched.

FAO assists local populations and governments by coordinating food and nutrition security strategies, conducting real-time analysis of changing conditions and issuing timely reports of the current status of hazards, risks and vulnerabilities in the region.

Rehabilitation of water sources and establishing small-scale irrigation systems, provision of plant and animal disease control and animal vaccination campaigns are some of the long-term actions that are incorporated into regular activities to better equip communities to face drought. Both animal and crop will also need to switch from subsistence to a market oriented production system with the right enabling environment to achieve economic returns. All of this needs a lot of education and time to achieve.

While responding to the developing crisis, FAO and partners must focus on building the resilience of affected communities. Drought is recurrent and cyclical in the Horn of Africa – natural disasters can erode or wipe out years of development gains.

Research shows that drought hits agriculture and livestock-dependent families hardest, impacting their food security, nutrition and incomes. FAO prioritizes resilience-building initiatives to help families anticipate, absorb, accommodate or recover from disasters.

Protecting and restoring livelihoods systems in the face of food security threats entails strengthening governance through support to sustainable environmental policies, improving early warning systems and preparedness measures. FAO continues to engage regional and national Governments and stakeholders to prepare for and mitigate disasters within the broader framework of sustainable development.

Matching the alerts of coming drought with smart, targeted early actions means at-risk herders and farmers can protect their critical assets and continue food production, while preventing a costly humanitarian response later.


Ruth Njeng’ere | Communications – FAO Kenya | ruth.lehmann@fao.org

Martina Torma | Communications – FAO Kenya | Martina.Torma@fao.org