The Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) region of Kenya has experienced four back-to-back below-average rainy seasons, leading to the longest drought in at least 40 years and leaving at least 4.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. The October to December 2020 short rains, March to May 2021 long rains,
October to December 2021 short rains, and March to May 2022 long rains have all under-performed, causing humanitarian needs to rise sharply in the ASAL counties. Meanwhile, early forecasts all indicate the likelihood of the October to December 2022 short rains failing, which would lead to a truly unprecedented situation, unseen in recent history.
In pastoral areas, herders have suffered significant losses and are facing a challenge to their very way of life, with at least 1.5 million livestock reportedly having died as a result of the drought, according to the Short Rains Assessment. Pastoralists are having to increase their trekking distances by up to 150 per cent, with most now walking 20 to 35 kilometres to bring their livestock to water and forage and return home. Over 90 per cent of open water sources have dried up and those remaining are expected to last just 1 to 2 months, compared to 3 to 4 months normally. The drought has also resulted in very low levels of conception and consequently, below-normal kidding and calving. Increased trekking distances have also had adverse impacts on livestock body conditions and productivity, including deteriorating health, increased susceptibility to disease, attacks by predators and death from hunger and thirst.
With forage and water resources depleted, pastoralists are moving further afield in search of sustenance for their livestock, increasing the risk of inter-communal and resource-based conflict. More than 70 per cent of livestock are estimated to have migrated—particularly out of Isiolo, Marsabit, and Turkana counties—and resource-based conflicts are occurring in grazing areas where different herders and communities are congregating. However, the most significant conflicts have been caused by migration of livestock herders into private property, such as ranches and farms in marginal agricultural areas like Laikipia, Nyandarua, Meru, Lamu, Kilifi, and Taita Taveta counties.
There are also growing reports of people migrating from rural areas to peri-urban and urban areas which are perceived to have better access to food and water. With increased migration and dwindling rangeland resources, resource-based conflicts are expected to intensify in the period ahead, resulting in the destruction of crops and properties, loss of livestock and human fatalities.
Meanwhile, in marginal agricultural areas, consecutive below-average rains have resulted in crop failure. The October to December short rains are the main production season in marginal agricultural areas, accounting for 70 per cent of annual production. Yet, in 2021, many households did not plant, and among those who did, most crops have wilted or failed to germinate, according to the Short Rains Assessment. In Turkana and Samburu counties, total crop failure of maize and cowpeas was expected as crops wilted at germination and vegetative stages. In Kilifi county, over 90 per cent of the crop wilted due to late onset and early cessation of the short rains. In coastal marginal areas, maize, green grams and cowpea production were 30, 11 and 14 percent of the five-year averages. Poor households in these areas also rely on livestock as a source of food and income, which has been challenged by the significant deterioration in livestock conditions and productivity as a result of the drought. Household purchasing power is expected to decline as agricultural labor opportunities remain low, the value of livestock declines, and staple food prices increase amid a fourth season of poor local production.
As a result, there are now 4.1 million people experiencing high acute food insecurity in drought-affected areas of Kenya (IPC Phase 3 or worse), according to the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) update issued in June 2022. This surpasses the number of severely food insecure people recorded in Kenya during both the 2010/2011 drought (3.7 million) and 2016/2017 (3.4 million). The sharp deterioration in the situation is reflected in the more than 46 per cent increase in people facing IPC Phase 3 or worse conditions between December 2021 (2.8 million) and June 2022 (4.1 million). At least 1.1 million people and three counties—Mandera, Marsabit and Wajir—in the ASAL region are now in Emergency (IPC Phase 4); this is more than double the number of people in Emergency in February 2022 (525,361).
Malnutrition is also rising at an alarming rate, with at least 942,000 children under 5 and about 134,000 pregnant or lactating women in urgent need of treatment in the ASAL region, including 229,000 severely acutely malnourished children who face an immediate threat to their life. Mandera County—where the prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) is 34.7 per cent, more than double the emergency threshold, according to a March SMART survey—is of particular concern. Key drivers of acute malnutrition are poor dietary intake, including due to reduced milk production and consumption, which forms the main diet for children in arid areas. Milk production has declined by 80 percent, according to the Short Rains Assessment, while in Turkana and parts of Marsabit, households reported no milk being produced. Other drivers of malnutrition include poor childcare practices, poor access to safe water, sanitation and health environments, high disease incidence as well as a lack of essential supplies for management of acute malnutrition due to stock-outs.
Access to water remains a key concern for over 3.3 million people, up from 2.2 million in October 2021. Due to the severe and prolonged drought, people are having to reduce their water consumption, with individual consumption in Marsabit, for example, decreasing by more than half (from the normal 15-20 litres per person, per day, to 4-8 litres)1 . The water table in most pastoral livelihood zones has gone down, resulting in low yields for boreholes and shallow wells.
Almost 95 percent of water pans are reportedly dry and water sources in pastoral areas that do have water are expected to last for less than one month. Women and girls, who carry the primary burden of fetching water for households, are having to travel further and wait longer for water, exposing them to heightened risk of violence. In pastoral areas of Marsabit, for example, the waiting times at bore holes was 4 to 5 hours.
The drought is having devastating consequences for women and children, heightening the risk of gender-based violence (GBV), sexual exploitation and abuse. Female headed-households and adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to increased violence, exploitation and abuse. In some communities, child marriage has reportedly risen, with families marrying-off young girls to lessen demands on their own resources and potentially get money that they can use for food and other necessities. This has been accompanied by a reported rise in female genital mutilation (FGM). At the same time, the movement of the communities in search of pasture and water has created a barrier to accessing gender-based violence (GBV) services as they move further away from the health facilities.
Children’s access to education, and therefore their aspirations for the future, has been severely impacted by the drought. Where school feeding programmes are absent or inadequate, absenteeism and dropouts have risen, with children staying home to look after livestock and/or take care of younger children as their caregivers and parents go out to look for food. Learners have resorted to engaging in child labour, boda boda (motorbike) transport and selling drugs in a bid to earn money and support their families.