Drought in Kenya has been a concern for years. The UN stated in 2022 that the country is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years. Particularly in the arid and semi-arid (ASAL) areas. It includes nine counties Kilifi, Mandera, Marsabit, Samburu, Turkana, Wajir, Isiolo, Kitui, and Kajiado. They are in the Alarm drought phase.
But in 2023, thirteen counties are experiencing the Alert drought phase. They include Garissa, Lamu, Narok, Tana River, Makueni, Tharaka Nithi, Baringo, Laikipia, Meru, Taita Taveta, West Pokot, Nyeri and Kwale. Only Embu County is in the Normal drought phase.
The drought has been so severe that it’s led to severe malnutrition in most counties. In Turkana County, birth rates dropped to 24.6%. Because of the needed migration, many women also lacked access to critical healthcare.
Hon. Mayaka Irene of the Nyamira County Assembly appeared on NTV to address the drought crisis. When asked if there was more that the government could be doing, she stated, “What we’re doing right now is just knee-jerk reactions to the issues that we do have… When you’re giving relief food, you’re not solving the problems that you have.”
In addition to the drought, food insecurity is exacerbated by record-high food prices. In pastoral areas, people travel up to 17km to access water. Dairy cows produce less than 0.9l of milk per household each day.
Hon. Mayaka also mentioned the technocrats who designed policies that could help resolve the drought crisis, but the government failed to implement any proposals.
She further explains that one of the things the government should do is declare the drought a national emergency. The construction of dams lacks adequate funding. Projects such as the dam in Keroka, Kisii County, have stalled. It is a dam that can supply water to Bomet, Kericho, and neighbouring counties. Hon. Mayaka criticizes the government for only mentioning climate change but lacking climate change action. She is in the process of introducing a bill in Parliament to tackle the water crisis.
Nyamira county usually has eleven rivers. But the county is currently operating with two rivers because residents have planted eucalyptus trees in the wetlands. Eucalyptus trees reduce water levels and dry up water bodies. Hon. Mayaka’s bill proposes that the eucalyptus trees are replaced with bamboo or avocado trees. Declaring drought as a national emergency makes the issue a priority for parliament.
Teso MP Mary Emaase also appeared on the program. She, too, believes that the government needs to invest in short-term and long-term interventions. She also lauded President Ruto’s efforts to gather donor funding for food relief.
However, the government has come under criticism for leading prayers against drought. The action feels hollow after six years of inadequate rains with the same response.
The country experiences the same problems, which appear to be getting worse. Students drop out of school, while others can barely function due to extreme hunger and thirst. Over 4 million Kenyans are at risk of starvation. Degradation of pastureland in pastoral areas also makes it harder for families to provide food.
Long-term government measures to ease the burden of drought
The government has been criticised for having reactionary solutions to drought management. The government needs to streamline drought preparedness.
1. Institutionalising drought risk management
In 2016, the state established the National Drought Management Authority, which assesses drought risk and coordinates mechanisms to end drought emergencies. The Regional Development Ministry and NDMA consistently raise funds to provide food and water to the most vulnerable. Money is also spent on ensuring the survival of livestock. Both institutions need to do more for the post-drought planning phase. Drought preparedness should become integral to planning and development rather than just a risk that’s responded to when it occurs.
2. Harvesting rainwater
The Kenyan Meteorological Department announced that the country should expect rains in 2023 around March. It’s expected that the country will experience 3-8 days of rain. The government can install rainwater harvesting systems on public roads and skyscrapers in urban centers to help provide water in major towns.
By 2020, Kenya had lost 6% of its tree cover. This worsens the effects of climate change. Forests are a water catchment area. Increased rainfall from the extra forest will replenish the water supply. In addition, forests improve soil quality, making it better for food production. Existing forests should also remain protected from logging and encroachment.
4. Drip irrigation
Farmers can no longer rely on rainfall to water their crops. The long dry spells and lack of reliability on rainfall make it hard for farmers to have excellent yields. However, the government can provide drip irrigation mechanisms to farmers and help them adapt to climate change. It involves a micro-irrigation system that uses as little water as possible and gravity.
5. Food conservation
Reducing food waste boosts food security. In Namibia, farmers started canning as a drought strategy. The canning of meats and vegetables also enabled farmers to sell to city dwellers as a source of income. Countries have also started using solar-powered cold storage to reduce food waste in markets and farms.
Read Also: Why Solar Powered Cold Storage May Be The Best Solution To Food Waste
6. Construction of dams
The current government pledged to construct 100 dams across the country. The previous government was to construct 57, but only five got completed. The government also said a mega dam would be constructed in Maragua to service Nairobi. However, they can also construct mini-dams in agricultural areas that are at risk. Small dams can provide water for irrigation, fishing ponds, sanitation, and drinking.
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