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Deaths reported as drought worsens across the country

Sunday March 17 2019

SUNDAY NATION TEAM
By SUNDAY NATION TEAM
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Several people have reportedly died of hunger-related complications in Tiaty, Baringo County, while thousands of others face starvation as the ongoing drought takes its toll.

Kositei sub-location chief Jack Ronei said deaths linked to hunger have been reported in Kamusuk, Kositei and Seretion, where four people have died.

He described the famine situation as dire and called for urgent distribution of relief food to avert more deaths.

DRAIN POISON

“Hundreds of livestock have also perished due to lack of water and pasture,” said Mr Ronei.

Other badly hit areas are Chematony, Tobereruo, Panyirit, Kopoluo, Kadeli, Korio and Katikit.

Affected families are now surviving on a wild fruit locally known as sorich, which has to be boiled for many hours to clear poison and make it edible.

According to a resident, Domoo Nakule, women are forced to travel for long distances to get the berries, which are then boiled for the whole day.

“The wild fruit is boiled along the river because it needs a lot of water to drain the poison. People are sensitive to the berries and most of them, especially young children and the elderly, have suffered from diarrhoea and vomiting, but they have no option because there is no other food available,” said Mr Nakule.

Livestock prices at local markets have dropped drastically as the animals have become emaciated due to lack of pasture. A goat, which used to sell at Sh3,000, is now going for Sh500.

“Most of our livestock died in the past years due to drought. The few remaining have become emaciated and cannot fetch good market prices,” said Mr Nakule.

At Kamusuk village, the Sunday Nation found 70-year-old Lochoria Karani sleeping under a tree, pondering his next move. In this village are frail faces of children, the elderly and expectant mothers who are hardest hit by the calamity. The old man had not eaten for three days and was suffering bouts of diarrhoea after consuming wild fruit.

BURIED ALIVE

“I have no money to go to hospital. The government had enrolled us to the cash transfer programme, but the last time we received the money was six months ago,” said the frail man, a father of 11.

Chepokirop Siwamuk, a mother of four, is cuddling her three-month-old baby. She has been forced to boil some strong tea for him as her breasts cannot produce any milk.

“I can survive on wild fruit but I cannot give the bitter berries to the young one. He keeps crying as my breasts have no milk. We sometimes go for four days without eating anything,” said a visibly weak Siwamuk.

Also staring at starvation is 80-year-old Chemarmirich Komolingiro who said she had not eaten anything for days. She is very weak and can barely walk.

The residents now depend on burrow wells, from where they scoop a little water to quench their thirst and that of their remaining livestock.

The burrow wells are proving to be a disaster, though, with a boy being buried alive recently after the walls of a well  caved in as he was fetching water.

Tiaty MP William Kamket termed the situation as dire even as he called for urgent intervention from the government and other humanitarian agencies.

“It’s good the government is putting in place some intervention though a bit late. We are facing extreme water shortage. All pan dams are 100 per cent dry. We need all manner of relief intervention,” said Mr Kamket.

LOCUST ATTACK

In Turkana, which is the most affected according to Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, the situation is just as bad. A locust infestation has worsened the situation, almost depleting the entire vegetation in the county.

Other counties with high proportions of their populations at risk include Isiolo, Garissa, Wajir, Kilifi, Baringo, Marsabit, Tana River and Samburu.

Mandera, Kitui and Makueni are also at risk. In these counties, food security is expected to decrease in the coming months.

The government has started distributing food in the affected areas. Mr Wamalwa on Friday flagged off 7,000 bags of maize and beans and visited badly hit villages in the six constituencies.

“Instead of bringing relief food we want to build resilience to ensure that arid and semi-arid counties can work on water storage by harvesting water; like investing in dams, irrigating land in order to grow more food so that we also come to Turkana to take food to other parts of the country,” CS Wamalwa said.

“We will also exploit the Napuu water aquifer by expanding land under irrigation through reliable technology to increase food production as we can no longer rely on rain-fed agriculture."

The worst hit villages include Nakurio and Kapua in Turkana Central Constituency, Kapedo and Katilia in Turkana East Constituency, Kalapata in Turkana South Constituency, Loteteleit in Loima Constituency and Kataboi and Lokitaung in Turkana North Constituency.

HEAVY RAINS

In Makueni, thousands of residents are facing starvation following the failure of the short November-December rains, which led to crop failure.

The areas that are badly hit are Kibwezi and Makueni sub-counties as well as the lower regions of Mbooni sub-county, with the National Drought Management Authority (Ndma) estimating that at least 54,000 households are in dire need of food aid.

Authorities have earmarked Nguu/Masumba area in Kibwezi West Constituency as one of the worst hit in the county, where some families reportedly survive on a single meal a day.

“Sometimes we go without a meal. This is because our maize crop failed completely and we depend on menial jobs since none in this family is gainfully employed,” said Mutinda Ndeke, a widow at Mweini Village whose family survives on relief food.

But the government’s response to the drought situation continues to be in sharp focus.

Just some months ago, heavy rainfall was reported in most parts of the country, yet the water went to waste.

Mid last year, parts of the country received exceptionally heavy rains, resulting in flash floods that led to loss of lives and damage to property.

TIPPING POINT

The government responded by distributing blankets and food to the communities rendered homeless by the rains. Of concern also is the fate of the Galana-Kulalu project, under which the government targeted 10,000 acres for irrigation to ensure food security in the country.

According to the Kenya Red Cross, previous droughts occurred in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2016, with floods in-between.

The organisation’s public relations and communications manager Noellah Musundi, on her Twitter page, said major cases of drought occur in Kenya about every 10 years and moderate drought incidence every three to four years.

The last drought of 2016 was declared a national disaster and over 3.4 million people were affected. “Malnutrition rates were critical at above 20 per cent. In Turkana, they were extremely critical at 30.3 per cent and over 294,000 children under five  were severely and moderately malnourished,” she posted on social media. With efficient early warning systems we should never allow ourselves get to such a tipping point,” she continued.

Reports by Florah Koech, Sammy Lutta, Pius Maundu and Kennedy Kimanthi