Sunday, July 17, 2011

Kenya reels in cycles of drought

John Muchangi in the Star (Kenya): We have weathered many droughts and this one too will come and go - this seems to be the thinking dominating the government’s food security meetings. That is because while a string of studies have predicted droughts will now be common in East Africa, little has been done to mitigate the effects.

The region is now facing one of its worst droughts in history. Last week, the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that about 10 million people across Eastern Africa are facing a severe food crisis. The report attributes the drought to rainfall failure in the last three consecutive farming seasons. The result has been increased child malnutrition rates amid high food prices even in areas expecting some harvests. In Kenya, Special Programmes minister Esther Murugi says the number of drought-stricken people is five million. “We are sending relief food in all those areas,” she told the Star.

This is an increase of about three million above the two million people who are almost perennially on a relief food programme supported by the ministry and the World Food Programme. The drought in Kenya was predicted early last year by the Meteorological department following heavy El Nino rains.

But in January this year, the government admitted failing to heed the Met’s warning. Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua said concerned sectors failed to plan in advance despite early warnings of an expected La Nina season. “It is clear that we in government have failed and we have embarrassed ourselves because we didn’t have to wait until the last minute,” Mutua said. “Why can’t we be like other countries that plan in advance even if it is six months earlier?” The hunger crisis now mirrors a huge wildfire with the government and a handful of NGOs rushing to put it out with basketfuls of water....

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