Children and adults living in Kenya’s most scarcely populated regions are battling a hidden hunger epidemic, with thousands of children facing a severe food crisis and sliding into severe malnutrition.
Traditional herding families are enduring the worst of the crisis, with many skeletal animals dying as they make the journey to find water and food.
Long-lasting, prolonged and repeated droughts, failed rainy seasons and desert locust swarms have contributed to massive food insecurity and disease outbreaks across Kenya’s arid and semi-arid regions.
In mid-August, the Kenyan government issued a drought alert across 12 counties, with an estimated two million people facing food shortages, with the arid counties of Turkana, Garissa, Wajir and Marsabit worst affected.
Read: President Uhuru Kenyatta Declares the Ongoing Drought a National Disaster
In February this year, 1,426,468 people in Kenya were reported to be food insecure. The number has increased to 2,147,840 as of August and the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) projects that this number will go up further to 2,517,311 by October 2021 if immediate actions are not taken.
At least 652,960 children across Kenya are acutely malnourished and require immediate food intervention and health services to survive.
Save the Children nutrition staff in Turkana, Wajir and Garissa counties recently spoke to families with children suffering severe malnutrition, who reported stories of hunger, loss and desperation.
Nadhifya (37) in Wajir Country took her two-year-old daughter Ruqiya to be treated for severe acute malnutrition. At the time of diagnosis, Ruqiya weighed just 6.3kg (14lbs), or the weight of a 5-month-old baby.
“Since the drought is raging, we can barely afford to have two meals a day… If the drought worsens and our livestock perish, then our livelihoods will be completely affected. We are afraid for our children’s lives,” Nadhifya said.
Elim in Turkana County told of how he had been forced to make blankets out of his goats due to the weakening condition of his animals.
“Just look at these skins, they are from dead goats, I have lost many. The condition of our livestock also cannot attract a good price at market and no one even buys it. That’s why I decided to slaughter here at home and have skin as my mat,” Elim said.
Read: Indians Celebrate Drought In Kenya As It Boosts Sale Of Indian Tea
Akeru (33), in Turkana County, spoke of her family being reduced to a single meal of rice porridge a day. Akeru is pregnant with her fourth child and said: “I used to be a strong woman, but now I am expecting a child soon and I am not sure if I will have the energy to push my child. The food we eat is not the way we were taught, but we eat because we have no other options.”
“Save the Children is appalled and deeply alarmed by the situation in northern Kenya, where children are going hungry and desperate families are making impossible choices such as killing their livestock to support their loved ones. The agency is urgently calling on the international community to make more funds available for the drought response, so desperate communities can receive the assistance they need before things deteriorate further,” said the agency.
Save the Children is appealing to the National and County Governments of Kenya to activate disaster management frameworks, and to work closely with development and humanitarian partners in a locally-led response that reinforces existing community efforts.
“Kenya has a diverse population of nomadic communities who have lived for thousands of years herding their animals across the arid lands, raising their children and surviving against the most incredible odds. However, they are not – and we are not – prepared for the gross impacts of the climate crisis. In the past, Kenya experienced extreme weather events every 10 to 15 years. As these events become ever more regular, families have very short time frames within which to rebuild their assets, recover and prepare for the next crisis,” said Save the Children’s Country Director in Kenya, Yvonne Arunga.
“Our teams are seeing animal carcasses strewn across the northern deserts of Kenya. Each one of these animals is an investment in a family’s future, and with each animal death we see a drop in hope.”
Read: Kenya to Receive Sh18 Billion Donation From US To Manage Crises
The agency says that the international community must address the root causes of the acute food insecurity, including finding a sustainable solution to the climate crisis, tackling the global climate crisis, and supporting the communities most affected to adapt and prepare for climate shocks.
Save the Children announced in June that more than 5.7 million children under five are on the brink of starvation across the globe, with the world is facing the biggest global hunger crisis of the 21st century.
In this response to this, Save the Children is scaling up early action and early response activities. In two counties; Garissa and Wajir. Save the Children with funding from USAID- Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance, is working with the county governments and two local partners to implement lifesaving interventions in Nutrition, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), and Food Security and Livelihood.
Key interventions include cash assistance for affected households, screening and treatment of children with malnutrition, water trucking and repair of boreholes among others.
In Turkana, with the current Humanitarian Funding the agency is supporting water trucking to water-stressed health facilities, Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) centres and schools.
“We are supporting scale-up of Family-led Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) tape, an easy-to-use colour coded tape that helps mothers check for malnutrition among their children, Vitamin A supplementation, deworming and vaccination,” added the agency.
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