Enough taskforces; solve drought problem now!

Enough taskforces; solve drought problem now!

By Lilian Kaivilu


A famous river in some part of Mwingi South is a cause of worry for the area whenever there are heavy rains. And just like any other rainy seasons, the April 2016 rains saw the river break its banks. The result was impassable roads early that month.

Locals had to part with some money any time they needed to get to the other part of the county in order to access healthcare and other basic needs. I recently witnessed the helplessness that the locals find themselves in around this river whenever it rains. With no bridge, the locals depend on ‘experienced swimmers’ who help them cross the river and back. But of course at a fee.

While on assignment at the place in April 2016, I came to terms with the flooded river and just wondered whether the county government had explored all possible options to mitigate this. “We are used to this every time it rains. In fact, I have witnessed this flooding since the El-Nino rains of 1997,”one of the swimmers told me.

Back in the city, the situation was not different. Flooding was witnessed in residential areas, shopping malls and roads. Tens of people died as a result of the floods in Nairobi alone. If you asked many Kenyans during the April rains, drought would be the last thing in their list of the calamities to strike their country, barely nine months later. But this is the sad reality we are looking at currently.

Having witnessed the flooding of rivers in one of the driest parts of the country and back in the city, I kept imagining how the raging waters could be saved and used later incase drought struck. To date, with hunger, lack of water and inadequate pasture for the pastoralists, I have not found an answer. Perhaps the newly formed taskforce on drought mitigation holds the answer.

In the last few days, both electronic and print media has been awash with distraught photographs and stories of starving Kenyans. From the dry taps in Nairobi region to the slowly drying wells in most parts has been witnessed in parts of Baringo, Samburu and Turkana counties.

But the sad reality is that this situation is not news to the arid and semi arid areas. And in Nairobi, it is not new either.

After the failed short rains of 1996/1997, the country experienced severe drought that left more than one million Kenyans hungry. The worst case at that time was reported in Kitui county when a family slaughtered a dog for a meal. In order to mitigate the then worsening drought, the government of Kenya called on international donors to donate food for the starving population. This saw the country receive 43 000 tonnes of food by December 1996.

About four years later, Kenya would get into yet another dry spell that left about 2,5 million Kenyans hungry and three million pastoralists with no pasture for their livestock. The then Kenya Department of Relief and Rehabilitation reported that the government had spent over Sh12 billion on relief food. Well, this was a short term mitigation strategies.

In 2011, Kenya experienced yet another drought as a result of insufficient rains. And just like the previous years, the then Ministry of Finance wrote to the international community, asking for aid to save the 3.7 million Kenyans who were in dire need of food and water.

These are just some of the examples of the droughts that Kenya has experienced since 1996. In view of the above instances of severe drought, then it is time that the government found out measures to address the catastrophe once and for all. Problems of drought in the country will not be solved by forming endless commissions and task forces to address the very issues that Kenya has grappled with for 20 years now.

And perhaps it is time we asked ourselves what’s new in these commissions and taskforces. Take, for instance, the case of the 1996 drought; just a few months before the drought mitigation taskforce was formed, the country experienced the wrath of the El-Nino rains. So did this warrant another taskforce to advise on the flooding issue? And what exactly has been the outcome of these sittings.

Of interest to most Kenyans, I guess, would be the amount of resources put in these taskforces and what such resources could otherwise do in mitigating the real problem.

Just like security and healthcare, food is a core role of any government and failure to address it with all the seriousness it deserves.

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