Raging drought crisis and its mega challenges and lessons

Monday February 13 2017

A woman fetches water from a hole she had dug on the dry riverbed of River Nyaidho in Awasi, Kisumu on January 17, 2017. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A woman fetches water from a hole she had dug on the dry riverbed of River Nyaidho in Awasi, Kisumu on January 17, 2017. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By ROBERT SHAW
More by this Author

The drought that is fast enveloping the country and the region has huge dimensions and ramifications. It is creeping into every part of our social, economic and political fabric and is having a demanding and debilitating effect.

Each new day reveals that it is spreading further and affecting more and more of the population. The number requiring food aid is increasing. Every rural and urban person regardless of status will have to contend with food inflation and other rising costs of living and reduced purchasing power.

It is, therefore, essential that we approach this gargantuan task and challenge in as holistic a way as possible. We need to examine and reinforce the ongoing food support and famine prevention. We are told famine relief support is in full swing. But how effective, efficient is it?

How many people are increasingly unable to get even a modicum of food and water? How many more are likely to join them in the coming months? How much time and energy is literally squandered ferrying food aid to them and the people waiting in queues for the distribution? How efficient and transparent is this operation? How can it be improved?

Even if there are adequate rains in March and April, the earliest there would be a maize crop is July and the bulk of it would be from the grain baskets of North Rift, in the last quarter of the year. We are, therefore, staring at a huge deficit that could run for several months. In the past, deficits would often be made up with imports from Uganda and Tanzania.

But the region is experiencing massive drought so there is little chance of much coming from there. This is a very important consideration in the equation, especially as it would often fill any immediate supply and demand gaps.

UNCERTAINTY AND PANIC

Mexico is being mooted as a possible supplier. We need to know how far negotiations have gone and other considerations such as time span and at what landed cost would this be. What we seem to have plenty of are assurances but not enough information and back-up facts and figures.

Prices will continue to rise as the supply and demand chain gets tighter and will be pushed higher by the uncertainty and panic that could ensue. It is important to touch on some of the broader effects.

Affordability will get less and nutrition levels will decline. Many institutions such as rural schools will have a tough time. Attendance will decline, as school lunch is a very pivotal part of the day in a number of areas.

The government must come out with a clear co-ordinated strategy dictated by what is actually needed where and when and a realistic plan of how it will be implemented. We must also factor in if the next rains are also deficient.

MAJOR FOOD DEFICIT

If this happens, then we are talking about a major food deficit until towards the end of the year. Beyond that, we have medium and longer-term challenges that we have some way to go on.

Two stand out prominently.

One is the avenue of supplementing our rain-fed maize production with irrigation-fed production. Although this is a more costly option, it would also help reduce the gap between consumption and production.

This would entail injecting more reality and practicality into such schemes as the Galana project. A second is to encourage the cultivation of drought-resistant crops, which are more suitable for our marginal land. This would improve food security.

We need to shake all our leaders and aspirants hard and remind them that short-term humanitarian action to mitigate the plight of drought must stand well above political posturing and other considerations. Diverting energy from the former to the latter is inhuman and totally unacceptable.

Mr Shaw is a public policy and economic [email protected]