About 1.3 million Kenyans are facing famine following inadequate rains this year, the government said Friday.
“There is a water shortage and increased risk of malnutrition. As a result, 1.3 million people in Asal (arid and semi-arid lands) counties are in need of relief food,” Devolution and National Planning Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri told a press conference at Treasury Building in Nairobi.
Also present was his National Treasury counterpart Henry Rotich.
According to a government situation report released on Friday, all the 23 Asal counties are affected.
The most affected include four in the Coast region — Kilifi, Kwale, Tana River and Taita-Taveta.
Others are Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Isiolo, Marsabit, Makueni, Kitui and Samburu. The two ministers played down the alarm over the famine.
“There is no report of any Kenyan who has died of hunger. We would like to assure all Kenyans that the government is on top of the situation and will ensure that the necessary help reaches the most needy on time,” Mr Kiunjuri said.
The threat of famine has prompted the government to form a committee composed of officials from the National Treasury, Interior, Devolution, Health, Education, Agriculture, Environment and Water ministries.
According to the ministers, the officials are expected to recommend further measures when they meet next week to determine the total amount of money needed for the humanitarian efforts.
Governor Ahmed Abdullahi claimed there had been no drop of rain in Wajir this year, and pleaded with the national government for emergency relief.
The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) announced on Thursday that in Kilifi, which has been allocated Sh90 million by the national government, it is buying livestock from farmers to save them from losses.
Mr Kiunjuri said his ministry was sending 3,500 90-kilogramme bags of maize, 2700 50-kilogramme bags of beans and 10,000 50-kilogramme bags of rice to the affected counties as relief food.
The counties will also get 1,000 cartons of vegetable oil.
The ministers said the National Treasury released Sh250 million to the Department of Special Programmes in August and a further Sh54 million to the NDMA for the purchase of livestock, education, health and nutrition.
But amid this intervention, the question of coordination and failure to prevent the looming famine lingered.
The ministers argued that the current situation had seen less people facing famine because of the government’s interventions in previous years.
“When we had the same situation three years ago, there were about 2.3 million people affected. In some years, we had more than five million.
“This lower number shows that the medium and long-term interventions we put in place have started to bear fruit. We are going to work together to ensure that this drought situation does not result in the loss of lives or livestock,” he said.
In its manifesto ahead of the 2013 elections, Jubilee pledged a raft of measures to reduce the impact of drought and improve food security.
The coalition talked of the provision of affordable loans to farmers, subsidies for fertiliser and certified seed, as well as the establishment of a “vibrant national irrigation scheme to open up more arable land”.
The alliance promised that within the first five years it would put 2.5 more million acres under irrigation, and launch programmes to cushion livestock farmers from incessant risks of drought and diseases.
The idea was to meet the African Union 2003 Maputo Declaration, which called for the allocation of at least 10 per cent of the total national budget for agriculture.
Only eight countries have fulfilled this pledge.
In spite of these pledges, Kenya continued to have millions of people in danger of starvation because of low rainfall, followed by chaotic intervention.
Mr Rotich admitted that there was little coordination in previous measures, leading to what he called overlapping of functions by ministries.