Date: 19 January 2017 13:36
Attention fellow Kenyans! The country is facing a rather grave danger as we are busy politicking. People are starving, schooling is untenable in some areas and clashes have broken out in others. And before we start crying Jubilee, Cord or Nasa, let us come together and save ourselves.
According to some reports conveniently hidden in the inside pages of our national newspapers or covered as “other news” in the electronic media, several Kenyans have died and thousands are staring at death due to the prevailing drought and famine.
About 23 counties are badly affected. In Nairobi, we have been warned to stop washing our cars in order to save water for more important uses. The taps have remained dry for the past one week and the man in charge of our water supply, Mr Philip Gichuki, the Nairobi Water Company CEO, is telling us that we might stay for another three months before any hope for normality. In fact, he has threatened to physically lead the onslaught against those in the habit of washing cars during times of water shortages!
The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), the department under the Ministry of Devolution and National Planning, tasked with the “mandate to exercise overall coordination over all matters relating to drought management, including implementation of policies and programmes relating to drought management”, has raised the red flag that the country seems not to notice.
In its latest report covering up to late last month, the authority terms as dire the situation in Garissa, Isiolo, Kilifi, Lamu, Mandera, Marsabit, Samburu, Tana River, Turkana and West Pokot counties. In some of these counties, our compatriots are migrating to neighbouring countries to seek refuge from hunger. Uganda and Ethiopia are proving possible fortresses for the sufferers. Some are even risking death or injury in the fighting in South Sudan to escape from the biting hunger in our lovely country that is their homeland.
The severity of the drought and hunger cannot be gainsaid. The NDMA is warning that tension is rising among neighbouring communities in some parts of the country as affected people scramble for water and pastures. The authority is calling for measures to bring the situation under control.
Among the measures the authority is advocating, in the report titled, ‘National Drought Early Warning Bulletin December 2016’, in the short term are rapid repair and maintenance of water points, provision of fodder or feed for livestock, expansion of animal health surveillance and response, and livestock offtake.
Others are the expansion of nutrition monitoring and provision of supplementary feeds and expansion of public health interventions. The NDMA is also advocating the provision of food for fees, where appropriate, as the new school year begins as well as peace building and conflict management, “particularly in areas of resource stress”.
It is during crises like this that the country and its friends should rise and come to the aid of her people. Every effort should be focused in one direction, irrespective of any other competing appetites.
County governments, the national government, donors and individuals need to put aside their differences and mobilise resources and ensure those directly affected by the drought are first assured of their lives by ensuring they get some daily bread.
Coming at a time of electioneering, there is a temptation for politicians to turn every emerging issue into political capital. The issue of the prevailing hunger, however, should not at any time be politicised. It is, indeed, a matter of life and death and should be treated as such.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. It is time MPs from the areas affected by drought convened special sittings for their Constituency Development Fund committees, reviewed their financial standings and where it is legally possible, should reallocate some of the money in their accounts to address the crisis. Governors should also go back to their county assemblies and prevail upon the MCAs to debate and pass supplementary budgets specifically meant to cushion wananchi against the dangers of hunger. It is, indeed, at such times, that speakers of the two Houses of Parliament would be justified to call for those special sittings!
As the NDMA recommends in the report, all the “counties and sectors should prepare to deal with serious drought across a larger geographical area between now and April”, when the situation is likely to improve, and that is if the expected long rains will not disappoint.
In the meantime, let us make a prayer for all of us in danger and hope those who can will do everything in their power to protect lives against the vagaries of weather.
Michael Mugwang’a is a communications consultant based in Nairobi.