A walk in Kajiado’s valley of death where drought prowls

Monday, September 26th, 2022 07:00 | By
A pastoralist force feeds an emaciated cow in famine-hit Kajiado County. Drought is worsening in 20 of 23 arid and semi arid lands in Kenya. PD/bernard gitau
A pastoralist force feeds an emaciated cow in famine-hit Kajiado County. Drought is worsening in 20 of 23 arid and semi arid lands in Kenya. PD/bernard gitau

A few metres from a drying water pan in Kisoso village, Kajiado County, the effects of drought are conspicuous. Scattered all over are animal skeletons — bare and shrivelled like the beings they were.

Some animals belong to Daniel Kilonito, a pastoralist who we meet searching for elusive pasture for his remaining livestock. All of them are too weak to lumber out to graze.

“The loss is immense. Personally, I have lost at least 70 cattle in a herd of 200,” says Kilonito. He reveals that he migrated from Isinya five months ago in search of pasture for his livestock, but all is bleak now.

“The fields are full of carcasses and skeletons. Our manyattas are inhabitable due to the stench of death. We were lucky a few days ago when a neighbour helped us transport carcasses from our homes,” he adds.

Unfortunately, after arriving home with a bunch of overgrown vegetation for his weak animals, Kilonito is met with a disturbing scene of a worker disposing fresh carcasses from his sheds. “This is the order of the day. Our hope is that the heavens open up soon,” Kilonito sighs.

Too weak to walk

At Kwenia private water dam, Amos Sane is in distress, wondering how to bring his animals to the watering point. His home is over 50 kilometres away and they are too weak to walk.

“I came here to pay for the fuel used by the generator to pump water. We pay in cash, or bring fuel in kind, to secure one more day for the animals. But the challenge is how they will reach here?,” Sane says. He reveals that should he fail to get water, a total of 150 cattle could die.

Jacob Milei, an elder and community spokesman, says the situation is getting out of hand and humans could soon start dying. “We have watched helplessly as our animals perish. What pains us most is that our children and women are getting weak, too. The water at this dam is shared by animals from all over Kajiado County and neighbouring Tanzania villages,” he says.

At Embolie village, Keekonyokie Ward, livestock and humans are scrambling for diminishing water at a community water pan. The pastoralists say poor prices for their animals have made it impossible to dispose them.

“A cow at the market is fetching Sh1,500 to Sh3,000. And one is supposed to transport the animals, hence incurring extra costs. Due to their weak nature, the animals could die on the way to the market,” laments Kilonito.

Sane equates the price the animals are selling at to that of mere hide and bone.

Pastoralists in this region are calling on the government to extend the current livestock off-take programme to them.

The drought situation is worsening in 20 of 23 arid and semi arid lands (ASALs). Kajiado county is one of 10 that have been flagged off as drought ‘red’ zones.

Last month, Kajiado Governor Joseph ole Lenku convened a crisis meeting with county leaders, national government officials, the National Drought Management Authority and several stakeholders to find ways of mitigating the drought.

According to Governor Lenku, the situation in Kajiado is unprecedented, surpassing the historic famine witnessed in 2009. At that time, months of scorching sun and wind claimed thousands of livestock.  “We have had a conversation to find short term, medium term and long term solutions to the drought. All surveys indicate that the drought is at ‘alarm’ level, hence the need to find immediate solutions to save people, livestock and even wildlife,” says Lenku.

Among a raft of measures put together by the team include distribution of relief food to affected communities, cash transfer to vulnerable families, and nutritional supplements for children and breast-feeding mothers.

Lenku says the livestock need pellets and vaccination as they have been roaming the county and even Tanzania, attracting a myriad of diseases.

Sh130 million kitty

Besides coordinating the relief efforts, the county has set aside Sh130 million from its emergency kitty, which will be made available immediately to address the situation.

Lenku reveals that, according to various surveys by several agencies, the emergency situation in Kajiado calls for more than Sh5 billion for food, livestock pellets, medicine and vaccination.

The Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) has warned of poor rainfall during this year’s October, November, and December seasons.

The deputy director of climate services at KMD, David Gikungu, says a fifth consecutive failed rainy season will be devastating for millions of people in Kenya.

Ten counties — namely, Isiolo, Mandera, Samburu, Kajiado, Tharaka Nithi, Turkana, Wajir, Laikipia, Tana River and Marsabit — are in ‘alarm’ drought phase while 10 (Embu, Garissa, Kitui, Makueni, Meru, Narok, Nyeri, Taita Taveta, Kwale and Kilifi), are in ‘alert’ phase. Another three counties, Baringo, West Pokot and Lamu, are in normal drought phase.

Worsening food security has resulted in acute malnutrition across these counties, with 942,000 cases of children aged 6-59 months acutely malnourished and 134,000 pregnant or lactating women acutely famished.

KMD deputy director of climate services, David Gikungu, notes that Kenya is experiencing the worst drought in 40 years due to inadequate rainfall over the past four seasons.

“The short rains are an important season in Kenya, particularly in Central and South-Eastern regions. The seasonal forecast indicates with high accuracy that most parts of the country will experience depressed rainfall, especially in Eastern regions,” he said.

The deputy director says the temperature forecasts indicate that for the larger part of Kenya, the season will likely bring warmer than average temperatures, especially in Eastern regions.

Gikungu expresses concern that a fifth consecutive failed rainy season would be devastating for millions of people already reeling from the effects of famine. The people in need of assistance are projected to increase to 4.35 million by October 2022.

He says the forecasted depressed rainfall will be driven by cooler than average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) over the western equatorial Indian Ocean, which is adjacent to the East African coastline. This will be coupled by warmer than average SSTs over the eastern Indian Ocean (adjacent to Australia), which constitutes a negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) that is unfavourable for enhanced rainfall over most of East Africa. A Ministry of Agriculture official, Jane Reuben, notes that climate change and low rainfall will greatly affect agriculture.

“Poor performance of agriculture poses a food deficit that requires contingency planning in form of imports, among other initiatives by the government and other stakeholders,” she says.

The World Wide Fund for Nature Kenya head of conservation, Jackson Kiplagat, says the situation is getting worse, citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which indicates that 2021 and 2022 are the hottest years ever recorded.

Although the average global temperatures were temporarily cooled by the 2020-2022 La Niña events, 2021 was still one of the seven warmest on record, according to six leading international data sets consolidated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Global warming and other long-term climate change trends are expected to continue as a result of record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the agency says.

Year 2021 was the sixth-warmest on record. When averaged across land and ocean, the surface temperature was 1.51 °F (0.84 °Celsius) warmer than the twentieth-century average of 57.0 °F (13.9 °C), and 1.87 ˚F (1.04 ˚C) warmer than the pre-industrial period (1880-1900).

The Paris Agreement calls for all countries to strive towards a limit of 1.5°C of global warming through concerted climate action and realistic Nationally Determined Contributions — the individual country plans that need to become a reality.

The WMO uses six international data sets “to ensure the most comprehensive, authoritative temperature assessment”, and the same data are used in its authoritative annual State of the Climate reports.

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