The cumulative impact of two consecutive poor rainy seasons, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, insecurity, pests and diseases have caused humanitarian needs to rapidly rise in the Arid and Semi-Arad Lands (ASAL) region of Kenya, leading to the declaration of a national disaster by the President of Kenya on 8 September 2021. Both the 2020 short rains (October to December) and the 2021 long rains (March to May) were poor across the ASAL counties. The two rainy seasons were characterized by late onset rainfall in most counties, as well as poor distribution of rainfall in time and space. In addition, forecasts indicate that the upcoming short rains season (October to December 2021) is likely to be below-average, compounded by the negative Indian Ocean Dipole.
There are now at least 2.1 million people who are severely food insecure and adopting irreversible copying strategies to meet their minimum food needs, and this is expected to rise to nearly 2.4 million people from November 2021, according to the latest Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) analysis. This will include an estimated 368,000 people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and 2 million people in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), and is nearly three times (852,000) the number of people who were facing high acute food insecurity from October to December 2020. Nine counties are expected to have the highest numbers of people in IPC Phase 3 and above from November 2021 onwards: Turkana, Mandera, Lamu, Garissa, Wajir, Kwale, Kitui, Tana River and Isiolo. Food insecurity is expected to worsen in the period ahead based on the likelihood of poor rains during the upcoming short rains season (October to December).
Livelihoods have been severely impacted by the multiple shocks that communities have endured over the past year. The 2021 long rains production in the marginal areas is expected to be 42 to 70 per cent below the long-term average (LTA) for maize, 61 to 89 per cent below LTA for green grams and 58 to 86 per cent below LTA for cowpeas. For farming households, below-average harvests result in reduced household income, making it difficult for families to purchase food as household food stocks decline. Household maize stocks are 31 to 54 percent below the five-year average in most marginal agricultural areas, with maize stocks projected to last one to two months compared to three or four months normally, according to the 2021 Long Rains Assessment, led by the National Drought Management Agency (NDMA). In pastoral areas, below- average rangeland regeneration has negatively impacted livestock production, resulting in below-average milk production and consumption and high staple food prices. Milk production ranges from 0.25 to 3 litres per household per day compared to the normal 2 to 6 litres. Likewise, daily household milk consumption ranges from 0.25 to 1.6 litres per household per day compared to the average 1 to 3 litres.
Over 465,200 children under 5 and over 93,300 pregnant or lactating women are acutely malnourished in the ASAL region, according to the latest IPC Acute Malnutrition Analysis. The nutrition situation is Critical (IPC Acute Malnutrition (AMN) Phase 4) in Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Samburu, Turkana, North Horr and Laisamis sub-counties in Marsabit County and Tiaty in Baringo County and Serious (IPC AMN Phase 3) in Tana River and West Pokot Counties. Worryingly, acute malnutrition has surpassed the emergency threshold in many areas, affecting between 15 per cent and 30 per cent of children in at least eight counties. Low food and milk availability, high morbidity, limited access to health and nutrition services, stock-out of essential supplies for management of acute malnutrition and poor childcare practices, coupled with underlying issues such as poverty, high illiteracy, and poor infrastructure have resulted in atypically high acute malnutrition prevalence across pastoral areas. In the period ahead, the nutrition situation is projected to worsen, particularly affecting children and mothers, in Turkana, Samburu, Mandera, Garissa, Wajir, Isiolo and North Horr and Laisamis, and will deteriorate significantly if the 2021 short rains perform poorly, as anticipated.
Access to water is an urgent concern for both humans and livestock. Many open water sources -including rivers, water pans, and dams- have dried up across pastoral and marginal agricultural livelihood zones, and other open water sources at 20 to 40 percent of capacity. Eighty-seven per cent of counties report above-average distances to water sources for households and 78 per cent report above-average distances to water for livestock, according to the latest NDMA monitoring. Household trekking distances to watering points have increased to an average of 2 to 6 kilometers, up from the five-year average of 1 to 5 kilometers. Across most pastoral areas, livestock return trekking distances have also increased: in Marsabit, trekking distances are exceptionally high at 25 to 30 kilometers, compared to 15 to 20 kilometers normally; in Wajir, livestock trekking distances range from 15 to 20 km, around 3 to 4 times the normal distance of 5 kilometers.
With pastoralists having to walk longer distances in search of water, food and forage for their livestock, tensions among communities have risen and an increase in inter-communal conflict has been reported, according to an assessment by the ASAL Humanitarian Network. Atypical livestock migration is expected to intensify from September through October 2021 and from December 2021 until the beginning of the 2022 March to May long rains, according to the latest IPC analysis. As rangeland resources deteriorate rapidly in the period ahead, migration to dry-season grazing areas and other atypical routes are expected to further intensify, potentially increasing the incidence of resource-based conflict and disrupting markets, schooling, livelihoods and access to health facilities and services.
Women, children and elderly people are often left behind in their villages, as men travel to access water, food and forage, heightening the risks of family separation, violence, exploitation, abuse and school drop-outs, as highlighted by the ASAL Humanitarian Network assessment and previous drought responses. During the 2017 drought in Kenya, children were often left behind with neighbours or relatives, or otherwise left to fend for themselves in urban centres, while families who were unable to sustain or feed all their members resorted to child labour as a main and standard coping mechanism, according to an Oxfam Protection Assessment. This often resulted in children dropping out of school to economically support their families, which is also a significant risk during the current crisis. Experience during the 2017 drought also highlights the risk of an increase in sexual and gender-based violence, including early marriage, during drought.
These risks have also been exacerbated by COVID-19, with a 2020 nationwide study by UN Women, Care and Oxfam revealing that both women and men are resorting to acts of gender-based violence as a result of idleness, stress, and conflicts over scarce resources.
Most ASAL areas have reported disease outbreaks, including due to reduced availability of safe water sources and lack of access to improved sanitation and hygiene services. Upper respiratory tract infections increased across all drought-affected areas and malaria is rising in Turkana and Samburu counties. Between May and July 2021, at least 36 suspected cases of cholera were reported in Garissa (Dadaab Refugee Camp) and Turkana counties, according to WHO, in addition to active outbreaks of measles in endemic areas of West Pokot and Garissa, and a new flare-up of kala-azar in Wajir since January 2021.
Looking ahead, with the 2021 short rains expected to be belowaverage, the drought crisis is expected to escalate. It is therefore imperative to act now. Food insecurity and malnutrition will continue to rise as families’ access to food and income dries up. Livestock disease outbreaks and resource-based conflicts are also expected to intensify, significantly impacting and constraining livelihood activities.
Livestock productivity is also expected to continue to decline, further reducing milk production and milk sales for households. Families are expected to intensify their use of consumption and livelihood coping strategies, which could result in further school drop-outs and heightened abuse of women and children.