Drought in Kenya: Current Crisis Calls for Long-term Solutions

25 Aug 2011

A Somali woman holds a malnourished child, waiting for medical assistance. A Somali woman holds a malnourished child, waiting for medical assistance. Somalia and Kenya are two of the most affected countries by the drought in the Horn of Africa. UN Photo/Stuart Price

Only minutes after our take-off from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, the landscape below us starts changing from lush green to arid brown and yellow, seemingly devoid of life. We are heading to the dry rural regions of Wajir and Turkana in northern Kenya.

With me on board are the World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran and the Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Jacques Diouf. We set out to hear directly from those most affected by the unfortunate drought and famine unfolding in the region.

Kenya has been hit especially hard by the crisis, with a food-insecure population of more than 3.5 million due to the drought. One farmer reports that in his village, close to the three-way border shared with Ethiopia and Somalia, it has not rained for almost two years and that there have been no harvests at all since 2009.

Most families and communities in Wajir rely on goats and cattle for their survival, but with the severity and duration of the crisis, their livelihoods are now threatened. The people we meet during our tour are tough, and so is their livestock. But we can tell they have reached the limit of what they can take.

Sadly, this crisis is nowhere near to being over. In fact it is intensifying. It is the worst food security crisis in Africa in 20 years.

With the frequency of droughts increasing, it is becoming difficult for people to recover. Experts argue, however, that while dry spells are cyclical, the humanitarian catastrophes they are causing are avoidable.

Investing in drought-resistant farming, improved livestock management, and more efficient water management can help make sure that people are better prepared to cope the next time a crisis like this occurs.

UN agencies are working to scale up these types of initiatives in drought-hit areas, particularly among communities close to the camps hosting increasing numbers of Somali refugees.

We need the support and long-term commitment of the international community to lay a foundation for resilience. We have no time to lose.

Aeneas C. Chuma is the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Kenya

Talk to us: How can we help countries like Kenya become more resilient in the face of droughts?

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