Thousands face starvation as drought worsens in Samburu

Tuesday October 18 2016
dry 9

A group of morans dig a shallow well on the banks of the Baragoi River in Samburu County in search of water. PHOTO | GODFREY OUNDOH | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The drought in Samburu County is worsening by the day, with desperate families trekking long distances in search of food, water and pasture for their livestock.

Women, children and the elderly are the most affected, as the dry spell persists in the northern parts of the county.

Baragoi, South Horr, Barseloi, Wamba, Suyan, Loonjorin, Ntepes in Opiroi and Nachola are the most affected areas.

A spot check by the Nation team in the affected areas on Sunday and Monday established a desperate situation.

In some areas, desperate families have been waking up as early as 4am to sit on roadsides to beg for food and water from travellers.

Throughout the day, they endure the scorching sun, and with herders, they chase after vehicles hoping to secure something to quench their thirst and fill their hungry tummies.


Josephine Lerumaki was among the families who stopped the Nation team and asked for water and food.

The middle-aged mother of seven is from Ntepes, where the drought's biting effects have been felt for the past one month.

Ms Lerumaki was accompanied by her five children, all below the age of 12. She begged for help, saying her family had not had food for the previous one week.

She was afraid that she may lose her children to extreme hunger.

“We have been living in this condition for the past two weeks. We have no one to help us or support us with food and water.

"My husband left with our camels to go and look for pasture and water four days ago and he is yet to return,” she to the Nation.


In her company were four more families, also waiting by the roadside with the hope that a passer-by will drop something for them.

“Some of our old family members are left in the manyattas without food or water,” Ms Lerumaki says, adding that neither the county nor the national government had come to their rescue.

As we spoke to her, more families comprising women and children from Barseloi and Suyan arrived at the spot.

Among them was Anna Lekishon, an expectant mother accompanied by her two-year-old child. She was among the group of women arriving at Ntepes.

She said she had been on the road for the previous three days in search of water and food for her child and herself. She was carrying three 10-litre jerricans and explained that she had come from an area drier than Ntepes and that there was no food or water.

“I had to come all the way to look for water and food for my family in this condition because we don’t have anyone else to help us back at home.

"My husband, with some of his male family members, have gone to look for a better place to graze our cattle and I don’t know when they will be back,” she said, tightly holding her son’s hand in the scorching sun.

She and her son spent the nights with well-wishers in manyattas found in the deep thickets of Samburu.

“The homes where I spent two nights also don’t have sufficient food and water and they are also planning to look for more to sustain them,” she lamented, adding that she had to go through the wild animal-infested bushes to look for a way to survive with her family.

She adds that she made the decision because of her son and two other children, who she said were no longer going to school because there is no food.


Ntepes is sandy and is used by many as a source of underground water. This is what most of the women use as the only reservoir left for them before they receive any relief aid.

In other areas, we found desperate women digging holes in the sandy and dry ground. They have to wait for hours before water trickles through the holes so they can scoop out some to fill their jerricans.

Some 83 kilometres from Ntepes, we found a team of morans sinking farther into a dry old water well in Loonjorin in the northern parts of Samburu in search of water for their livestock and for domestic use.

The group entered the 15-foot muddy well without any protective gear. They said it was the only closest option for them and their families for survival.

Leading the team was Sam Lenolkirina, who criticised the county government, saying it had not done anything to provide water since the drought began.

“We cannot die of thirst and we cannot allow our livestock to die because we have no water. That is the reason we have decided as men from this village to come together and look for a solution,” he says.


According to the National Disaster Management Authority and the Samburu County government, an estimated 54,000 people have been affected by the drought and are at risk of starvation.

The authority issued a famine alert about two weeks ago and called for urgent intervention.

Samburu government in collaboration with the national government under the National Drought Management Authority had promised to start supplying relief food to affected families from the beginning of this week, but the distribution has yet to kick off.

The affected families are now calling upon the government to intervene speedily, saying many were at risk of malnutrition. Those rearing camels are relying on camel milk for survival.

Pastoralist communities from neighbouring Marsabit, Isiolo, Baringo and Turkana counties have also been forced to travel several kilometres in search of water and pasture for their livestock.

There is concern that the situation may spark conflicts as groups scramble for the already scarce resources.

Meanwhile, local leaders and residents have appealed to the government to buy their livestock at good prices before they die from the drought.