For Alice Aleman, the sound of an approaching vehicle rekindles hopes of fresh relief food rations at Sopel village in Turkana County.
They are few and far between, the rations, as drought ravages the land. She walks out of her manyatta with an empty sack, hoping the vehicle is carrying food. It is hot, with afternoon temperatures rising to highs of 39 degrees Celsius, and villagers have been left to their own devices in this unforgiving landscape.
“The elderly, women and children have been left behind by men and boys who move around in search of water and pasture,” she told the Nation.
On Friday, she was among more than 400 families who dashed out of their manyattas and gathered under an acacia tree to get a share of food donated by a well-wisher.
At Nakwamor village, near the Kenya-South Sudan border, Ms Anam Natoo Lokwang, whose household is made up of 16 people including 10 grandchildren, is also struggling to survive.
When her husband died, Ms Lokwang became the sole breadwinner, selling firewood and charcoal to restaurants in Lokichoggio to make ends meet.
On a good day, she could make between Sh150 and Sh200.
However, the venture, which many women in villages on the outskirts of Lokichoggio town had taken up, became unreliable as Covid-19 took a heavy toll on the hospitality industry. Her goats and sheep are weak due to the drought and her business can no longer sustain her family.
Drought fueling conflicts
“Besides relief food, those running small businesses should be supported to recover, especially in areas that primarily rely on pastoralism,” she said.
In Kibish Sub-county, Mr Gideon Lokieny says that, due to a high concentration of livestock in Kibish near the border of Kenya and Ethiopia, the borehole frequently collapses. The area is also frequently raided by Merille militia from Ethiopia whenever pastoralists drive their livestock to River Nakuwa.
“Drought always fuels conflicts and herders who are unarmed can’t risk going to the river or nearby grazing fields,” he said, while appealing to the county and national governments to build dams and water pans.
Mr Naamz Kaleng of Lorumor village said residents of Morutorong, Kadu, Lokwanamor, Ngang’ololin and Ng’isowa are at risk of contracting waterborne diseases. Other hard-hit villages are Urum, Kokuro, Lopii, Nanaam and Oropoi.
Back in Sopel village, Ms Aleman’s wish have come true. The vehicle that comes to the village is laden with maize flour, beans, cooking oil and salt to the families that turned up at the village – the lucky one that month.
“The main source of livelihood for the locals is livestock and, with the delayed rains, many lack food. Starving villagers are in desperate need of food to survive,” said Ms Wilkister Holanda, a manager at Bethel Media Services, who donated the food.
Every month, her organisation coordinates with local leaders to identify the most affected village and donate food.
Mr Aburiakol Nawut said relief food is not reliable, as they never know when they will receive their next rations. The situation is worse for the sick, who cannot get out of their manyattas to line up for the food.
Risk of being wiped out
“I urge both the national and county governments to resume distribution of relief food before we lose the sick to hunger,” he said.
In May, the county government ended a relief food distribution drive targeting 640,000 people. County Disaster Management Chief Officer Esther Ikaru said Sh370 million was spent in the exercise that began in March. However, not all the starving have benefited.
Ms Leah Lokaala, a resident of Kalotum village in Turkana Central Sub-county, said she has resorted to begging for food from motorists on the Lodwar-Kalokol highway to feed her family.
“Living less than 25 kilometres from Lodwar is always a disadvantage to us because we are near a major town. When we are in need, it is not easy to get relief food distribution and that is why I started to beg from motorists,” Ms Lokaala explained.
The Turkana County Government has appealed for animal feeds from the national government and development partners to save thousands of livestock.
More than four million goats and sheep across the seven sub counties are at risk of being wiped out, said Turkana Pastoral Economy Executive Philip Aemun.
“Generally, most traditional and reliable grazing fields are depleted due to overgrazing, threatening pastoralism, which is the main source of livelihood for a majority of the locals,” he said.
Statistics from the National Drought Management Authority indicate that the whole county is in “alarm phase”, except for some areas in agro-pastoral livelihood zones that seem to exhibit “alert phase” indicators, but which are rapidly worsening.
The county officials noted that, due to lack of pasture, livestock are currently weak and are fetching little or no income for those who are opting to sell.
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“We urgently need concerted efforts from all stakeholders in the livestock sector to rescue our pastoralists by cushioning them with supplementary livestock feeding so as to increase availability of feeds for the livestock that produces milk for highly affected women and children,” Mr Aemun says.
The county official has called for a livestock off-take programme targeting weak animals, especially in remote areas where locals are purely pastoralists.
Turkana Senator Malachy Ekal said the drought has been worsened by lack of a proper mitigation and coping strategies, despite the county receiving billions as equitable share.
“The administration needs to embrace reliable technology to improve agricultural practices, especially in places close to permanent rivers through irrigation and also promote dry-land farming in areas without rivers but with arable soils.”
“We will also invest more on boreholes and dams to ensure we have enough water for locals and livestock,” Mr Ekal said.
The senator, who is eyeing the governor’s seat in next year’s polls, said natural resources like oil, gas, building stones and sand, as well as minerals such as gold and gemstones that the county is endowed with can be used to end endemic poverty and address the high level of vulnerability among residents in the county.