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East Africa is facing its worst drought in years, affecting over 40 million people.
Because of the drought’s impact on food supplies many are facing near-famine. There is a severe shortage of both food and water, and millions of children are acutely malnourished. Other factors, such as extreme poverty and poor infrastructure, are also contributing to the increasingly severe impact.
Communities in Kenya’s Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) are struggling to recover from five consecutive seasons of below average rainfall. The 2023 March to May long rains yielded some improvement, yet needs remain high.
The rains triggered flash floods in various parts of the country, including in ASAL counties, causing loss of lives and livelihoods. Over 5.4 million people were projected to face acute food insecurity between March and June.
The current drought has far-reaching consequences. The lack of food and water is a direct threat to children and their families. Many people in the region depend on their livestock and make a living through agriculture. Because of the drought, animals die and crops are repeatedly destroyed. Families are then forced to move to other regions to access food and water. This has a detrimental impact on children’s school attendance, safety, and security.
Much of Africa is experiencing extremely high food costs. This is due to macroeconomic difficulties and exacerbated by domestic grain shortages and changes in global food and fuel supplies. The ongoing lack of water increases the risks of dehydration, waterborne diseases, including cholera, skin infections, and malnutrition.
At a global level, the war in Ukraine has contributed to a shortage of grain and a rise in the prices of many essential items, including the cost of fuel. This comes at a time when many countries on the African continent are still recovering from the economic impacts of Covid-19, which have been devastating. Children had been taken out of school and then had no opportunity to learn at home, as many families do not have access to internet or electricity.
Distribution of food and water to families is urgent in the short-term. Long-term, it is crucial to focuss on child protection and sustainability. Providing access to education for children is key to their future.
In Kenya, emergency interventions that tend to be implemented in response to drought are effective in terms of saving lives, but they are not designed to address the chronic poverty or vulnerability that characterize the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs). Experience suggests that the most effective way of providing support in such situations is through protecting people’s livelihoods. Livelihood interventions aim to protect or enhance livelihood assets, strategies and outcomes; contributing to saving lives, and to building resilience and addressing vulnerability.
Food security is maintained through having a consistent source of food. Farming, specifically greenhouse farming, provides consistent supply of food when it is established in a way that is set up for the long term. Capacity building can be achieved by including a forum for information and experience sharing, knowledge acquirement on importance of nutrition and different farming techniques that can be implemented in the ASAL areas, with methodologies that address the needs/constraints and cultural values of the community appropriately when the community structures and members together with other stakeholders are given an equal opportunity in decision-making processes. The methodologies and approaches should empower the local structure with knowledge, skills and essential inputs, providing the basis for ownership and sustainability during implementation and in the long run. The goal is to improve the communities’ nutrition status and to reduce their vulnerability to malnutrition by ensuring they are food secure.
Developing farming skills ensures consistent supply of food through greenhouse farming as well as learning management skills. Support to greenhouse farming can be in form of provision of improved greenhouses, farm inputs as a subsidy, and building of storage facilities for improved post-harvest handling for farm produce. Community capacity building is intended to ensure that communities have the skills and knowledge needed to plan for and cope with future livelihood shocks. The capacity building focuses on effective greenhouse farming and benefits of farming to the individuals as well as the community as a whole.
In Kenya, women take primary responsibility for the care of children, and research shows that child health and nutrition are positively linked to the skills, education and income of women. During times of crisis, women are under great pressure to find food and water. Our experience has shown that focusing on livelihood skills for women provide long-term, sustainable solutions to undernutrition and food insecurity, for women as well as their families.