Kenya is defending its record in protecting its citizens from hunger, just as the United Nations launched a funding appeal for three million Kenyans in danger of starvation.
On Thursday, the UN sent out a request to donors to help raise Sh17.1 billion ($166 million) to tame the ravaging effects of drought in Kenya, a month after President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the situation a national disaster.
But the Jubilee administration, which supported the appeal, got in a tight spot especially since its manifesto promised to avoid such funding appeals when it sought power in 2013.
Of concern is the fate of the Galana-Kulalu project which the government targeted 10,000 acres for a Sh7 billion irrigation project meant to ensure food security in the country.
And after a feasibility study that cost Sh1 billion, and after a pilot farming project that returned 100, 000 bags of maize, Kenya is still hungry. The government says it will take a lot of time to get value for money.
“The harvest of 100,000 bags is equivalent to a harvest from 2,000 acres out of 10,000. The project is not even complete yet,” argued Irrigation PS Patrick Nduati.
“We are converting ASAL, dry, hard, neglected, never-touched-land since God created this earth into food production, and that has taken a lot of time and need to take a lot of effort.
Dr Nduati told journalists in Nairobi that the government is digging 65 boreholes to supply water to those affected, erecting 140 water pans worth Sh2 billion and building 57 large dams (of between 1 million cubic metres to five billion cubic metres of water), all of which once complete should protect rural folk from drought in future.
But the UN appeal brought back memories of Kenyans4Kenya campaign five years ago when the Red Cross led an appeal to support those in danger of starvation at the time. Kenyans raised Sh600 million mainly through mobile money, part of which the Kenya Red Cross said would start long-term food projects.
“Yes, someone can say five years ago we were here, why are we in the same place? And those are the questions that we all have to ask ourselves as a nation,” posed Kenya Red Cross Secretary-General Abbas Gullet.
“There are solutions, in spite of the weather challenges. Pilot projects have shown that it is possible to grow more food. We have a number of projects that we can show it is possible to be farming in the middle of arid or semi-arid counties. But the problems we are facing will take many years to solve.”
The funding appeal, according to UN Kenya Resident Co-ordinator Siddharth Chatterjee targets both private bodies and international donors to help stop another round of possible famine in the country. Once raised, the money could either be channelled through government departments or UN agencies.
“What we are doing is to make sure that no Kenyan dies because of lack of food or scarcity of water. That is our first action, which is to save lives,” Mr Chatterjee told journalists in Nairobi.
“Our second action is to go into a quick recovery mode. But our third and most important action is, over the next few years, look at Kenya as not only drought-resilient but as a bread basket for the rest of eastern and southern Africa.”
The appeal, which comes weeks after the UN launched a different regional $1.4 billion funding request to deal with drought in the Horn of Africa, is targeting Kenya’s key donors such as the European Union, United Kingdom, the US and others. The money will go to buy food, bring water to communities, send cash stipends to some and help launch what officials said were longer-term projects against hunger.
Government officials led by Chief of Staff Joseph Kinyua, UK Department for International Development Country Director Pete Vowles, US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec, Agriculture PS Richard Lesiyampe and other officials met in Nairobi where they launched the fund-raising appeal.
“We need to come up with a mechanism that will be dealing with this issue in a manner where we don’t look helpless,” said Mr Kinyua.
“This should not be a problem we should continue singing about. The government is in the process of formalising national drought emergency fund…this will ensure that the efforts of individual agencies complement each other.”
Kenya’s situation, as opposed to South Sudan’s for example, has not reached famine level according to UN standards which assesses hunger situation by determining number of people who have starved to death or malnourished.
But 23 of the 47 counties in Kenya are affected with about 340,000 people in 13 of the counties in arid areas considered vulnerable. These 13 counties, in total, are home to an estimated 2.7 million who must now be put on a relief programme, same as another 300,000 in counties that often have relatively fair climate but which have had little rain in the past year.
Mr Lesiyampe said there is no one “who has died directly” from hunger, but did admit that a number of livestock, the main source of livelihood for these communities, have either died or lost market value.
“This drought is going to be one of the most painful, remember it is one of the worst that has faced this country,” he said.
“The impacts are quite severe (sic) on the livestock. This drought situation on livestock has caused death, loss of body condition and therefore value and almost a total collapse of the meat production.”