Poised to become the next humanitarian crisis, Kenya is suffering the consequences of a year-long drought. The BBC reports more than one million in need of food and other aid to survive this persistent dry spell. Women and children bear the burden of this drought, as 30,000 young men migrate with cattle to neighboring Uganda. Consequently, those remaining in the Turkana region must rely on roots, berries, and stray dogs.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network reports more than 34% of children under the age of 5 are at risk of malnutrition. This indicates a 7% increase from the five-year average. Reports predict a rise in malnutrition rates if the drought continues.

With a forecast predicting “subnormal” rains, Sam Owilly of Practical Action cautions the need for action before a full crisis arises. The Government succeeded in slowing the progression of food insecurity, yet severe malnutrition endures. The next four to eight weeks stand at a critical point; the Turkana region demands immediate water and food, in addition to “supplementary feeding and medical care of livestock.”

Though Owilly credits the government for its current efforts, Oxfam and Save the Children attribute the crisis to inaction. The joint report remarks:

“A culture of risk aversion caused a six-month delay in the large-scale aid effort because humanitarian agencies and national governments were too slow to scale up their response to the crisis, and many doctors wanted proof of a humanitarian catastrophe before acting to prevent one.”

The drought in Kenya highlights the prevailing pattern of desertification in East Africa. A number of warning signs, as early as 2011, indicated a dramatic decline in rainfall in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Djibouti. That year, a drought in east Africa claimed nearly 100,000 lives. More than half of those affected died before the age of 5, reports the United Kingdom Department for International Development.

To increase resiliency in these trying times, aid must focus on development of sustainable technology. Oxfam and Save the Children subsequently aim to “break down the divisions between humanitarian and development work.” In this crisis, these agencies advocate for lasting reform to lower present and future risks.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development supports this objective, investing in technology to support dryland agriculture. This specialized agency of the United Nations harnesses information and technology to help rural farmers survive water scarcity. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) promotes investment in technology. Satellite imaging, for instance, provides data on the rainfall and other weather conditions. This tactic better predicts the crop yields, and subsequently allows for “timely assistance.”

A billion people live on these dry lands and face the risks of climate change. Rising temperatures exacerbate food insecurity in this region, so, in response, relief agencies should invest in technology to identify the driest seasons. This early detection promises immediate relief in the form of food and water to the most at-risk nations.

– Ellery Spahr

Sources: The Guardian, BBC, IFAD