A Four emaciated children sit alone in the scorching sun outside their house in Tambalal village in West Pokot County.
As we approach the gate, one of them crawls away. The children, between the ages of two and seven, look sickly.
Neighbours say their mother left after a row with her husband.
The villagers add that the children’s father is a labourer and an alcoholic. The four children do not go to school.
A neighbour, Lilian Tiamale, says the abandoned children have not eaten for a week.
“When we came here, their eyes were white and they could barely walk because their legs were swollen. I went back home and brought them milk and flour. Their father later came and sold the food. I came back with more and cooked for them,” she says.
Mrs Tiamale adds that the children were diagnosed with typhoid and malaria when she took them to a local dispensary.
“A child collapsed during the assembly recently because he had not eaten for days.”
School feeding programmes have been disrupted by the ravaging drought.
Tambalal Primary School Deputy headteacher Emanuel Kasiwai said the institution had not received food for 10 years.
“A child collapsed during the assembly recently because he had not eaten for days,” he said, adding that the number of pupils had dropped from 400 to 200.
The school has no feeding programme.
Sarimach Primary School headteacher Wilson Lonoki asked the government to send food to schools in the area. “Children living along the border go to school when there is food. When there is no food they stay at home. This has really affected education standards in this area despite peace prevailing for a year and a half now. We don’t have food for our children. The prolonged drought led to crop failure,” he said.
Lonoki said that the pupils spend their days walking for more than 15 kilometers in search of water instead of attending school. “We fear that learning could be affected long term if the situation persist,” he said.
Even before the current drought West Pokot had the highest rate of malnutrition – stunting and wasting – in the country. Nearly half of children under five years of age in the county are stunted and more than a third are underweight, according to the latest Kenya Demographic and Health Survey. The national stunting average rate is 26 per cent and underweight average rate is 11 per cent.
Kapenguria County Hospital receives 70 -100 children affected by malnutrition per month.
Kapenguria MP Samuel Moroto and other leaders raised concern after the World Food Programme left the area.
Education Director Tom Mboya said pupil numbers in some schools had dropped by 75 per cent.
“Schools are given money for food but sometimes it is not enough and not every institution is covered. Sometimes what is provided only covers 10 weeks yet the term goes for a longer period,” he said.
“We distributed food in Kong’elai, Sook, Chepareria and some dry areas of Central Pokot Sub-County.”
Songok assistant chief Joseph Korkimul said residents could lose more animals since the area has not received rains for long.
“We have no other place to go with our livestock,” he said.
He said the drought had taken a toll on women whose husbands were killed in armed conflicts with neighbouring communities.
Contacted, Governor Simon Kachapin said the national and county governments were doing all they could to fight hunger.
He said the government was disbursing food to West Pokot’s four sub-counties.
“We have distributed maize, beans, and rice and cooking oil,” said Mr Kachapin.
MAJOR ECONOMIC ACTIVITY
He added that the government would ensure no person died due to hunger. The governor said the county government bought 5,000 bags of maize that was distributed to the most affected families.
Plant clinics had been set up to help farmers reduce losses, he said. The pilot programmes are in Makutano, Siyoi, Kipkorinya, Karas, Kapkoris and Kamatira.
Agriculture officer Phillip Tingaa said the devolved government put 5,000 hectares of land under irrigation and was expecting to harvest 150,000 bags of maize.
Livestock production is the major economic activity in the county. “This is the main contributor in enhancement of food security and promotion of the local economy,” said Kachapin.
He said farmers have been engaged in breed improvement of the livestock. “We have supplied 298 Galla bucks to upgrade the local goats; county government bought 158 while individual farmers bought 140. We have also managed to sponsor some youths to Nakuru; rift valley science and technology to buy Friesian bull calves,” he said.
However, a report from the National Drought Management Authority office in the county shows that the hunger situation is at normal and has not reached alarming levels.
“There is need to follow up the brief with an intensive rapid assessment to ascertain the approximate number of households that are likely to transition into the above phase if short rains failure is witnessed,” said the County Drought coordinator Mr Gabriel Mbogho.
On Friday Devolution Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri said about 1.3 millions Kenyans are affected by drought, Mr Kiunjuri, however, said than number is lower than what it was three years ago.
He said Kilifi is the worst-hit county among the 23 counties, including West Pokot, affected by the drought.