Kenya drought to worsen as Ruto denies deaths

By Morris Kiruga, in Nairobi
Posted on Friday, 22 March 2019 12:39

Turkana is again the worst-hit area by drought. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Food security is likely to feature prominently when President Uhuru Kenyatta gives his sixth State of the Nation Address on 4 April.

Kenya’s perennial drought problem has resurfaced again, according to a government report that shows that the food insecure population has risen to just over 1.1 million people, mainly spread over 12 counties.

  • Early reports claimed as many as 20 people had died of starvation, triggering a wave of public outcry.
  • Deputy President William Ruto and several cabinet secretaries have repeatedly denied that there have been any deaths, while assuring the public that the government is responding to the situation. The responses include food distribution and efforts to improve access to water.
  • After visiting Turkana, one of the worst-hit areas, devolution cabinet secretary Eugene Wamalwa told a local TV station: “There are no confirmed deaths yet. What we have are unverified reports.”

Food security is a key agenda in Kenyatta’s final term, but efforts to achieve it are hampered by irregular rains, lack of an efficient distribution system, and rampant graft.

  • The Kenya Met Department told reporters in Nairobi that the current drought is the result of below-average short rains in October-December 2018, and a prolonged delay in the onset of long rains, which normally fall from March to May.
  • The department also warned that the counties currently experiencing drought will be the last to get rains, and pushed its predictions for the start of the rainy season to the beginning of April.

The current drought situation began in October 2016 and worsened over the next two years, affecting an estimated 3.4 million people.

But the onset of the rainy season will not help the current drought crisis, and significant problems remain in food production and distribution. The regions currently experiencing drought are significantly marginalised, and the long-term efforts to ease their socioeconomic situation are still taking shape.

  • In May 2018, Kenyatta signed the Equalisation Fund, which gave counties with disadvantaged populations as much as KSh1bn to improve the situation.
  • In mid-March, Kenyatta also signed the Petroleum Bill, which gives county governments 20%, and communities 5%, of the national government’s revenue from petroleum products.
  • The main beneficiary of this revenue-distribution model is Turkana, one of the largest counties in Kenya by land mass, which hosts several oil finds. About 18% of the county’s population are currently food insecure.

According to Tullow Oil, over 70, 000 barrels have already been transported to the port city of Mombasa under the Early Oil Pilot Scheme. The company also moved its target for export from early to mid-2019 so the revenue-distribution is unlikely to kick in for a few more years.

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