Close to a million Kenyans might be in dire need of food aid in the coming few weeks, and the situation could get worse if the long rains fail to start, the government has warned.
This means the special programmes department in the Devolution ministry will have to sustain relief food efforts in at least 12, mostly pastoral, counties that are the most affected by drought to prevent the situation from getting worse.
As a result of the prolonged dry spell, water has become scarce in these counties, making it hard for locals to find food and pasture for their animals.
Some are reported to be eating wild fruits just to survive. This has been attributed to depressed rainfall in most parts of the country during the short rains season.
Women, the elderly and children are the hardest hit by the drought because of their limited movement in the search for water and food.
And now the government has taken measures to help mitigate the situation by distributing relief food and water trucking to the affected areas.
On Friday, Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa led relief aid distribution in some parts of Turkana County, which has the most people needing assistance.
“What we are doing is to make sure that no Kenyan dies because of lack of food or scarcity of water. That is our first action, which is to save lives,” Mr Wamalwa said.
Other counties with high proportions of their populations at risk include Isiolo, Garissa, Wajir, Kilifi, Baringo, Marsabit, Tana River and Samburu.
Mandera, Kitui and Makueni are also at risk. In these counties, food security is expected to decrease in the coming months.
In Turkana: Kibish, Kerio, Nakururum, Loima, Kobuin, Kataboi, Kalapata and Katilia areas are the most affected.
Mrs Echwa Loitakit from Kobuin village said locust infestation had worsened the situation.
The insects have almost depleted vegetation cover from trees and shrubs on which their livestock feed, she said.
“There is no grass, and the trees and shrubs are bare. We are staring at a dire situation in the coming days should there be no interventions to have food delivered to the hunger-stricken. We are very thirsty,” she said.
Mr Patrick Topos, an elder from the same village, said: “We fear for our lives and those of our animals” he said.
In Makueni, thousands of residents face starvation following failure of the short November-December rains which led to widespread crop failure.
The National Drought Management Authority estimates that at least 54,000 households in the county are in dire need of food aid.
Authorities said Nguu/Masumba area in Kibwezi West Constituency is one of the hardest hit in the county.
“Sometimes we go without a meal. This is because our maize crop failed; we depend on menial jobs since none of us is gainfully employed,” Ms Mutinda Ndeke from Mweini Village said.
The National Government Affirmative Action Fund has been distributing relief food to residents.
According to the Kenya Red Cross (KRC), droughts occurred in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2014, 2016 with floods in-between.
KRC public relations manager Noellah Musundi said major drought incidences occur in Kenya about every 10 years, and moderate drought incidences every three to four years.
The drought of 2016 was declared a national disaster, and over 3.4 million people were affected.