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Recurring Kenyan Droughts Affect Millions

A recurring drought in parts of Kenya has affected millions of people and has caused population shifts from rural areas to towns and villages. For example, many thousands of subsistence farmers in the Nyeri and Laikipia Districts in central Kenya have moved to slums.

Steven Waweru, livelihood and emergency coordinator for the Catholic aid group Caritas Kenya, is in Nyeri directing humanitarian operations.

"The effects of drought are so severe currently because farmers have not had an adequate harvest in the last six seasons. And that translates into food shortage…lack of water for domestic use…lack of income…. And of course there are a lot of deaths in terms of livestock," he says.

Survival instincts

The hardships have also led to some violence, not only between people, but also between people and wildlife competing for scarce resources. Waweru says there's also been an increase in "petty thieves and thuggery."

The Laikipia District was one of Kenya's breadbasket areas, located nearly 200 kilometers north of Nairobi.

"According to the government figures…close to 9 to 10 million people are affected. But in our region, the central Kenya region…west of Mt. Kenya, close to 400,000 are affected by this drought, primarily farmers and pastoralists," he says.

Towns and villages offer little comfort

"It's true that a majority of household heads…are moving out of their usual residences to towns in search of…jobs and alternative livelihoods…. Most of the people actually look upon petty labor for them to sustain their lives. But unfortunately, there is very little that they can do at the moment because there's no farming activity," Waweru says.

Some women seek positions as nannies or domestic workers.

Caritas has been a main regional distributor of aid supplied by the U.N. World Food Program since 2000.

"Caritas…is targeting 68,000 very needy people. We are appealing that this number is much, much less than…the people in need. And we are hopeful that the number is soon going to be increased to close to 200,000 people," he says.

The community-based programs supply food rations each month, but he says those supplies usually only last about three weeks. So, Waweru says, there's a need for full monthly or "100 percent" rations.

"Because they do not have anything…and the coping mechanisms are extended to the extreme."

However, Caritas and the WFP say unless donor funding increases, it will be difficult to expand humanitarian programs.

Less rain, more often

"The last severe drought was in 2000 when we targeted close to 200,000 people. And before that it was actually not an issue because at that time it was isolated…. But since 2000," he says, "we have had four regimes of emergency intervention. And in the last three years, believe me, the situation has deteriorated."

He blames climate change for the droughts.

"The weather pattern has definitely changed. Rainfall is no longer coming as scheduled. We normally have two cropping seasons every year. Now we cannot even manage one single season," he says.