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No End In Sight To Hunger And Pain
Cattle that are too weak to stand up due to hunger and thirst as a result of drought are loaded onto a truck for transportation to a slaughter house in Wajir recently.
The Greater Horn of Africa, which includes Kenya, is expected to receive inadequate rainfall for the second consecutive year.
A weather forecast issued by top scientists from Africa, Europe and North America, says the region, with a population of more than 100 million, will receive from normal to below normal rainfall during the March-April long rains season.
The forecast paints a gloomy picture for the region whose economy depends on the long rains for food and cash crops as well as pasture for livestock.
The Greater Horn comprises Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania and Sudan.
Last year's drought caused by the failure of long and short rains resulted in the death of several dozen people and thousands of livestock.
According to the prediction, southern Sudan, central Ethiopia, southern Djibouti, western Uganda, the whole of the Lake Victoria basin, Rwanda, Burundi, southern and south-western Tanzania and part of north-west Somalia are the only areas that will receive normal to above-normal rainfall.
Parts of the Kenyan and Somali coasts will also record normal to above-normal rainfall.
A chunk of Kenya, central and north-eastern Tanzania, parts of central and south-eastern Uganda, parts of Somalia and southern Ethiopia will receive from near-normal to below-normal rainfall.
Rainy and sunny conditions
The rainy and sunny conditions will continue in northern Sudan, northern Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti in the next three months.
The forecast spells doom for Kenya, a large swathe of which is either arid or semi-arid, as areas that will receive from normal to above-normal rainfall comprise only 30 per cent of the country.
"The rest of the country will receive poor rains," says the meteorological department director, Dr Joseph Mukabana. They are the highly productive areas of the highlands east and west of the Rift Valley and the coastal strip.
Already, 3.5 million people are in need of emergency food aid following poor harvests last year.
So were the rains that pounded the country in late February and early this month part of the long rains?
Mr. Peter Ambenje, the department's assistant director, says No, adding that the long rains proper have yet to come.
"As we said, the rains would be short-lived because they were caused by tropical cyclones over Mauritius and Malagasy, which were not part of the long rains," he adds.
The cyclones attracted air from as far as the Congo river basin, he says, adding: "The air was moist and that is what caused the heavy rains in most parts of Kenya."
Normally, long rains begin in the first of week of March in western Kenya, second week in Rift Valley, third week east of the Rift Valley, including Nairobi, and the coastal region in the fourth week.
But meteorologists fear that the pattern might be disrupted if another tropical cyclone forms. "Let us hope another cyclone does not form in the Indian Ocean, as this may be devastating," warns Prof Laban Ogallo, the director of the Igad (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) in Nairobi.
But he says that that chances of another cyclone disrupting the wind system at the inter-tropical convergence zone responsible for the long rains in Kenya are still high.
"The sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean are 28 degrees Celcius, and this is suitable for another cyclone," he adds.
The ICPAC boss says the current weather patterns are similar to those experienced in 1984 and 1996 and which preceded some of the poorest harvests in Kenya.
The forecast makes Environment permanent secretary George Krhoda very concerned. "If the predictions are right then that will force the Government to divert money meant for development projects to humanitarian aid, making it hard to meet our targets in the financial year," he says.
Prof Krhoda adds that areas around Lake Victoria are likely to experience flooding, which will destroy houses and the infrastructure.
The Government, he says, has initiated several projects in the eastern parts of the country to harness the water, and intends to extend the initiative to other parts of the country prone to flooding, such as Nyando District and Budalang'i in Busia.
With the inadequate rainfall, the Horn's rain-fed agricultural economy is bound to suffer as a result of low yields.
Predictions by the Famine Early Warning System, which factor in the current food insecurity, show that a chunk of northern Kenya faces a humanitarian emergency, which is drifting towards a famine catastrophe.
"Our predictions show it will be mixed results in Kenya," says Mr. Suleiman Mohammed of the Famine Early Warning System. "While some areas will receive good harvest, the others will register low yields."
He ascribes this to the depressed rains to be experienced during the season.
The World Food Programme warns of a humanitarian catastrophe if more emergency stocks are not sent to the famine-stricken areas immediately.
The executive director, Mr. James Morris, says that while the UN agency needs Sh16.2 billion to tackle the disaster, only Sh2.7 billion has been committed. "We still need Sh13.6 billion in the next 12 months, but the money committed is meager, compared to the humanitarian task ahead," he adds.
In fact, according to the ministry of Special Programmes, the Government needs more than Sh20 billion in the next eight months to effectively deal with famine.
According to a schedule from the ministry, the money will cater for four million people faced with famine for the rest of the year.
The funds, the ministry says, will enable it to buy 233,000 tones of maize, 41,000 of beans, 37 of cooking fat and 1.3 of salt.
The supply is expected to cater for the needs of people whose number is expected to rise from 3.5 million currently to four million by the end of the year.
The ministry adds that Sh1 billion is needed for water supply, including borehole repairs, and emergency sanitation facilities to 1.5 million people in 25 badly hit districts.
The Government will need Sh840 million to check severe malnutrition among women and children in northern Kenya.
In an effort to cope, in the face of the scant rainfall, the ministry says it intends to distribute seeds worth Sh840 million to 510,000 families in the drought-stricken areas.
Besides, Sh3.5 billion is needed to buy 500,000 livestock, 10 per cent of them from the drought-hit areas.
The Government says that between July and February, it distributed maize, beans, vegetable oil and dried milk worth Sh3.9 billion to one million people.
The forecast is not good news to pastoralists either.
According to Mr. Mohammed, pasture in the arid and semi-arid areas will remain poor despite the long rains. Areas which will suffer poor grazing land are the southern lowlands and most of north-eastern parts of the country, especially Turkana District.
Others are Kiteto District of Tanzania and Uganda's Kotido-Moroto.
However, the situation is expected to improve in Somaliland, Djibouti, north-eastern Ethiopia, eastern Somalia, south Rift Valley in Kenya and western and south-western Uganda.
Due to the shortage of grazing land, Mr. Mohammed warns of conflicts in some areas as the residents scramble for the scarce resources.
"The hot spots will be northern Kenya, southern Ethiopia and Somalia and northern Tanzania and Uganda," he says.
Kenya has had its share of violence over the resources, mainly in northern Kenya and parts of Rift Valley.
Last year, the Gabra and Borana fought over scarce pasture and water, resulting in the death of more than 10 people.
Mai Mahiu has also been an area of frequent clashes between pastoralists and crop farmers over water points.
But the good news is that chances of El Nino rains occurring in the region are almost nil. "Predictions have indicated a transition from the mild La Nina to neutral conditions over the eastern and central Pacific Ocean," the forecast says.
By JEFF OTIENO
Publication Date: 3/16/2006
Source: The Daily Nation