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Drought Increases Malnutrition in Kenya

Out of the 8.5 million people facing crisis and emergency food security conditions in East Africa, more than 1.3 million live in Kenya, reported the World Food Programme. These crisis conditions are expected to worsen as the drought in the country continues, exacerbating current hunger and malnutrition in Kenya.

This June, the European Union (EU) granted Kenya $6.5 million for drought crisis preparedness, in an attempt to push back against further crisis and famine from severe droughts across East Africa. “It is designed to deliver a quick response from the Agency to Counties in the lead up to and in the event of an official drought being declared in order to mitigate its destructive effects,” the EU said in a press release. This emergency money will be used to dig new and rehabilitate existing wells, build food storage and educate Kenyans against starvation-driven conflict.

Drought and the impact on food supply is a real and increasing problem for hundreds of thousands living in the arid areas of Kenya,” said Erik Habers, Head of Development at the European Union in Kenya, in the release. Hunger in parts of Kenya, especially amongst the pastoral tribes, will likely reach a crisis-point before September, as crops grown before the drought begin to run out. “Well below average March to May long rains in the southeastern and coastal marginal lowlands are likely to lead to a below average maize harvest,” reads a report by Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

As the food crisis escalates, Kenyan deaths and illness associated with malnutrition will likely increase. Recent pre-crisis numbers, reported in the Star, indicate that 41 percent of children in urban areas and 35 percent of children in rural areas experience stunted growth from malnutrition. “The nutritional status of children in urban areas in Kenya is worse than that of rural areas,” said Elizabeth Kimani, a public health specialist with the Africa Population Health Research Centre.

These escalating food shortages not only impact Kenyan impoverished people, but also paint a bleak future for the thousands of South Sudanese refugees fleeing from violence and starvation into the Turkana region of northern Kenya.

Drought-stricken Kakuma, Kenya, is facing further crisis, now, as 20,000 Sudanese refugees have joined then 110,000 residents of a refugee camp already thousands past official capacity, local health official Robert Ewoi told NBC News. “The hunger situation has been growing from bad to worse as water pans have dried up, relief supplies diminished and local residents left to fend for themselves,” said Ewoi. Even areas without a constant stream of refugees remain in a fragile, near-crisis state. “What you are seeing is that people are being knocked off their feet by one shock and not quite able to get back on their feet before the next one hits”, said Nicholas Cox, of the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, to The Lancet.

Because the original vulnerability that left those people in famine remains ignored, Cox said, they fall into crisis with the next shock, be it famine, war or political instability.

-Sally Nelson

Sources: StarAfrica, The Lancet, The Star, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Food Programme
Photo: EarthTimes