The government’s decision to declare drought a national disaster may have saved the country from famine, but authorities must invest more in nutritional supplements to save thousands of children from lasting effects of malnutrition.
At a consultative meeting organised by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) on Friday, humanitarian agencies said the timely declaration allowed for a quick response to reach out to the more than three million people.
But it could require much more to wipe out the lasting effects of low diet among children.
“There has been a better analysis and thanks to contributions from donors, we are able to respond faster.
“In Kenya, the government is in the lead. We are seeing efforts to scale up a social safety net programmes, which ensures that people can bounce back,” said Aida Mengistu, the head of the OCHA Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa.
In Kenya, where the government announced that three million people are in dire need of food, President Uhuru Kenyatta last month declared drought a national disaster, which meant that more focus was to be directed to saving lives.
OCHA says the response is preventing what could have been worse than the 2011 drought especially since it affects a wider area.
Children in the 23 counties affected by the drought will need more dedicated help to wipe out the effects of malnutrition.
In Turkana County alone, Ms Mengistu said, half of the people are malnourished, mostly children.
“The urgent action we need is getting the treatment to the kids that are malnourished. That is happening. We are working with the government and agencies like Unicef to make sure that the nutrition supplements are getting to the kids,” she told the Nation.
In Kenya, 1.1 million children are in need of food while 100,000 of them under five are suffering from severe malnutrition, with 174,000 others dropping out of school for lack of food.
Planning Principal Secretary Josephta Mukobe told the Nation the government’s response has also included what she called “health foods” for children and mothers.
“We are focusing on the vulnerable. In the food we have purchased, a lot of it is meant to replenish their health.
“My ministry is buying these special foods and we are targeting pregnant and lactating mothers and children. It is a nutrition component that we hope can reverse this trend,” she said.
The ministry said it is sending nutritional supplements to counties where local authorities will distribute them to those in need.
The Igad meeting heard that the effects of the current drought may not be as severe as those of 2011, when 10 million people in the Horn of Africa faced famine and more than 200,000 died of hunger.
But participants said there must now be longer-term programmes.
“Our early warning systems were stronger this year than in 2011, for example. But our recovery and response mechanisms should be in sync,” said Mahboub Maalim, the executive secretary of the eight-member-country Igad.
Karen Freeman, USAid country director for Kenya, argued that there is a need to “to break the cycle of emergency” and provide resilience to the people.
“We need to be able to measure results of the investments,” she said, adding that limited global resources will no longer allow for perennial appeals.
Two weeks ago, the UN announced a Sh17 billion appeal to fund emergency programmes in Kenya following the drought.
Last month, the government said it will require an additional Sh11.4 billion to address food shortages and the attendant rise of malnutrition in the country, which had risen to 30 per cent.
A situation update from State House showed Turkana, Mandera and Marsabit counties were most affected by food shortages while Baringo, Isiolo and Turkana had the most severe cases of malnutrition.
The additional financial requirement means that the government has revised its estimates for the relief programme, which the Ministry of Planning and Devolution had earlier said should go on until August, costing an additional Sh9 billion from April.
Already, the government says it has spent Sh5.4 billion to address the impact of the drought between November last year and January this year.
Between February and April, the ministry said it would require Sh11.6 billion and another Sh7.1 billion to extend the relief efforts to August.
But it has only allocated Sh7.3 billion for the remaining phases, meaning it may need assistance from donors of another Sh11.4 billion.