People in the Arid and Semi-Arid (ASAL) Counties of Kenya are experiencing a food security and nutrition crisis as a result of a protracted drought that has undermined coping capacities and exacerbated vulnerabilities.
Kenya, alongside other countries in the Horn of Africa, has faced a severe food crisis for most of 2017 due to the recurrence of drought in shorter cycles, negating efforts to reduce vulnerability. The areas of Kenya that are experiencing the worst effects of drought also face entrenched poverty, limited investment, and intermittent conflict which have further compounded food insecurity and malnutrition.
The Government of Kenya declared drought a national disaster on 10 February 2017 and a humanitarian Flash Appeal was launched in March 2017. Since the launch of the Flash Appeal, the situation has continued to deteriorate. The Mid-Season Assessment and Long-Rain Assessment – carried out at the beginning of May and July respectively - both show a sharp deterioration in the food security of the population and the nutrition status of children, particularly in 11 out of 23 ASAL counties. The 2017 long rains ended early in all drought-affected pastoral, southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural areas, resulting in a short rainy season. This culminated in a third successive poor or failed season in most parts of the rangelands and cropping lowlands.
The are now 5.6 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Kenya, including 3.4 million people who are food insecure. This includes 2.6 million people facing severe food insecurity, of whom 500,000 are already in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), and 800,000 people facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security who are expected to fall into crisis levels from August to October. Household purchasing power has been compromised, limiting access to food. Despite recent declines, maize prices in August are 60 per cent and 42 percent respectively above the five-year average in Eldoret and Kisumu. In Nairobi and Mombasa, prices are 24 per cent and 18 per cent above the five-year average respectively. Livestock prices have declined by up to 40 per cent and the combination of low household incomes and high staple food prices has significantly reduced the livestock-to-cereals terms of trade. Milk consumption has halved to 1 to 1.5 litres per family per day in most areas due to high prices.
In the absence of adequate cross sectoral interventions, more people are expected to fall into Phase 4 by October 2017.
High levels of malnutrition continue to be reported across the ASAL counties, with some counties reporting Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates of more than twice the emergency threshold. A total of 369,277 children in arid and semi-arid counties now require treatment for acute malnutrition, including 296,645 estimated to be Moderately Acutely Malnourished (MAM) and 72,632 Severely Acutely Malnourished (MAM). In addition, 36,988 pregnant and lactating women require treatment for malnutrition. Thirteen of the 17 SMART surveys undertaken in June and July 2017 recorded critical levels of malnutrition, with GAM rates over the emergency threshold of 15 per cent. Of these, four surveys reported very critical levels of malnutrition, with GAM rates of 30 per cent or above recorded in Turkana Central, Turkana North, Turkana South, and North Horr in Marsabit. The highest GAM rate recorded (37 per cent) was in Turkana South. The main drivers for the nutrition crisis are household food insecurity, reduced milk and food stocks availability, increased food prices, and poor dietary diversity. Families have adopted extreme coping strategies such as reduction in meal intake, skipping meals, and restricted consumption by adults. This situation is aggravated by compromised child care, child feeding and water and hygiene practices and high disease burdens. The drought and consequent nutrition crisis have increased maternal work load (for example, increasing distances women walk to water sources and waiting time) and exacerbated preexisting vulnerabilities (such as high poverty rates and poor access to health facilities).
The drought, combined with an infestation of Fall Armyworm, has undermined people’s livelihoods – particularly in the livestock sector - and exhausted their coping capacities. Widespread crop failure, acute water shortages, sharp decline in terms of trade for pastoralists, and declining animal productivity are having a devastating impact on food security and nutrition. Livestock contributions traditionally account for 80 per cent of household incomes in the arid areas and 65 per cent in the semi-arid lands. Poor pasture conditions and depletion of water sources have caused high livestock migration (80 per cent), often into non-traditional areas, increasing the risk of resource-based conflict and spread of disease. The drought has also resulted in the deterioration of the animal body condition, low birth rates and high mortality rates (estimated at 10 per cent), particularly in Isiolo, Laikipia, Marsabit and Samburu. Forage conditions are likely to decline rapidly until the end of October. Given the strong correlation between the Forage Condition Index and human malnutrition levels, this highlights the continued threat to food security and nutrition across most ASAL counties. Meanwhile, the 2017 Fall Armyworm infestation has impacted areas that produce the majority of the country’s maize. Some 200,000 hectares have been affected by the pest, resulting in losses valued at US$122.6 million, according to estimates from the State Department of Agriculture. As a result, long rains maize production in 2017 is estimated to be approximately 2.3 million MT, representing a decrease of 20 - 30 percent below the five year average.
There has been a sharp increase in disease outbreaks - such as dengue fever, cholera, kala-azar, and malaria - associated with the drought and rising levels of food insecurity and malnutrition, especially among children under five. As a consequence of the drought and cross-border transmission of infectious diseases from neighbouring countries, cholera is reported in 17 counties with a total of 1,474 suspected cases of which 430 are confirmed, and a total of 18 deaths (case fatality rate 1.6%). In addition 1,507 cases of dengue fever have been reported in Mombasa and Wajir county. Wajir and Marsabit county have reported 398 cases of Kalaazar with seven deaths (case fatality rate 1.8 per cent). Essential health care services are provided to severely malnourished children with medical complications.
The drought has also negatively impacted people living with HIV. Some 290,000 people living with HIV are potentially at risk of the impact of the drought across the 23 counties, 60,000 of whom are in the 11 priority counties. The ability to continue HIV treatment has been compromised by food insecurity leading to deteriorating health, coupled with the effects of malnutrition. Furthermore, negative coping mechanisms create risks for HIV infection across affected populations. The risk of treatment disruption and malnutrition is high, leading to negative health outcomes and a reversal of the gains in controlling the HIV epidemic in the ASAL counties. Of particular concern is the situation in Turkana, which has been severely affected by the current drought and also has a high HIV burden with an estimated 22,523 people living with HIV and a very low adult treatment coverage of 34 per cent.
Water shortages continue to exacerbate the impact of the drought on vulnerable communities. The truncated long rains season brought short-lived relief to water levels. However, as of mid-July, more than 80 per cent of water pans had dried up in Isiolo, Laikipia, Mandera, Meru North, and Samburu East, and 40 per cent were reported dry in Marsabit. This has caused: increased return distances for water trucking, which in some instances have more than doubled; significantly increased waiting time at water sources for women, particularly in the arid counties; and exceptionally high costs of water in many areas, such as Marsabit where the cost of a 20 litre jerry can has reached Ksh 50 ($0.50) compared to the normal cost of Ksh 5 ($0.05). The WASH sector estimates a total of 2.6 million people are now in need of support as water scarcity is severely disrupting the lives of communities.
Lack of food and water in schools, drought-related migration, insecurity, and deteriorating economic conditions have reduced access, participation and retention in schools. Several schools have reportedly closed due to communities migrating as a result of the drought, while other schools report being overcrowded due to the influx of migrating children and others seeking school feeding. Conflict over resources driven by the drought is another impediment to educational continuity, with ten counties reporting that insecurity has affected education. Negative drought-related coping mechanisms have been reported - such as increased early marriage and resort to child income generating activities – which have an adverse effect on attendance and retention in school and child protection. As a result, the education sector estimates that 1 million children are in need of support to ensure their education is not disrupted.
Increased food insecurity, malnutrition and water scarcity are having an adverse effect on the safety of women and children in affected localities. Food and water deprivation have increased the prevalence of street children, forcing more children out of school and exposing them to the risk of exploitation. Children and women are forced to walk longer distances to collect water, exposing them to greater risk of sexual- and gender-based violence, particularly in areas severely affected by the drought. Across all affected counties, women and girls carry a higher burden of the HIV epidemic, both in terms of those already living with HIV and new infections. In Turkana, one of the counties seriously affected by both the drought and HIV, HIV prevalence among women is 5.7 per cent versus 3.4 per cent among men; while young people make up 47 per cent of new HIV infections, the majority of whom being girls and young women. Communities facing acute food and water deprivation may also lose the capacity to take care of the most vulnerable community members, including older people or people with special needs, who may face problems accessing humanitarian assistance. The number of people in need identified by the child protection and gender-based violence (GBV) subsectors is 323,901.