Molu Elema, 56, with his camels near North Horr in Marsabit.
Molu Elema, 56, with his camels near North Horr in Marsabit. (Photo: Ed Ram/Concern Worldwide)

Crisis in Kenya: Urgent Action Needed As 3.5 Million Face Drought-Induced Hunger

Over 2.2 billion people globally live without access to adequate and safe water. The problem is made even worse in countries where workers depend on land and livestock for income.

An example of this is Kenya. With a population of over 53 million, 36% of people live in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL), which make up 89% of the country, while arid counties alone cover 70% of Kenya. Among the population living in ASAL, 3 million people depend on groundwater for domestic, livestock, and irrigation purposes.

However, frequent and prolonged droughts exacerbated by climate change have made survival difficult for these communities.

Horn Of Africa Drought

Currently, the Horn of Africa is enduring its worst drought since 1981 due to three consecutive poor rainy seasons. Millions across Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia face extreme hunger, livestock death, and the destruction of their hard-earned crops.

In Kenya, a drought emergency has been declared. Between 80% and 90% of reservoirs and dams are drying up in Turkana, its largest county in the northwest of the country and one of the hottest and driest counties in northwest Kenya. Here, lakeside communities can no longer survive on fishing while pastoralists are losing their livestock.

More than 1.4 million animals are believed to have died in Kenya alone due to the ongoing drought, with the government bringing in and slaughtering more than 75,000 weak livestock to share meat with more than 766,000 households in the worst affected areas.

Water sources for people and livestock have become increasingly scarce, forcing families to walk longer distances – herders often trekking up to 30km to find a water source. This means that food and water prices are soaring to unaffordable levels, resulting in rising malnutrition.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 3.5 million Kenyans are facing hunger due to acute drought by June 2022. A fourth consecutive poor rainy season could prove disastrous.

Arshad Muhammad, Concern’s Kenya Country Director, explains: “We are suffering the consequences of changed weather patterns caused, most believe, by climate change.

“Vulnerable families are at risk of starvation, and the most affected are children aged under five, the elderly, and breastfeeding mothers.

“It’s very worrying when even camels, known for their ability to survive in extremely hot and dry conditions, are struggling to survive.”

How Concern Is Helping

As a response to the current drought, Concern Worldwide is treating people showing signs of malnutrition in Northern Kenya and providing cash to families so they can buy food.

Our teams are also repairing broken boreholes and shallow wells and vaccinating livestock against diseases to keep them alive during the drought.

We are continuing our work to improve access to adequate and safe water, largely through groundwater abstraction infrastructure and enhanced adoption of sustainable water resources management practices in both developmental and humanitarian emergency contexts.

Groundwater Exploitation

On World Water Day 2022 in March, Concern called for all stakeholders to prioritize access to water for people living in the ASAL region by appropriate use of the groundwater and investments to utilize groundwater resources adequately.

We have successfully utilized optimal borehole yields, improved catchment protection, and enhanced multiple uses of groundwater systems in arid regions in recent years. This has seen communities access more water for both household and agro-pastoral activities.

The future of improved water availability and access in ASALs lies in the regulated use of groundwater reserves and proper management. This can be attained through deliberate efforts by the county governments and other stakeholders to enhance community capacity and awareness of the importance of the protection of groundwater resources.