NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 28 – More than two million people are facing starvation in Ukambani, one of the regions worst hit by the raging drought, according to statistics from the Kenya Red Cross.
One of the most affected districts is Kibwezi, which is usually known as one of the more productive areas in Ukambani. More than 15,000 families there are on the brink of starvation owing to three consecutive years of crop failure.
Wells and rivers have also dried up and locals have to walk for close to five hours to get water. A 20 litre jerry can of the precious commodity is retailing at between Sh10 and Sh20.
“We planted last October but it only rained once and the entire crop has dried up. We have nothing to give our children,” Esther Rumumba, a mother of seven told Capital News as she stood in her naked farm.
“Life is unbearable and our children could possibly die of hunger. We don’t even have strength. We used to burn charcoal and sell but now we are getting very little from it,” 65 year old Mzee Patrick Kumaka added.
They describe the modest portions of relief distributed by the provincial administration as a drop in the ocean.
“Like in this village, it is only five families that get the relief. They get around five kilograms of grain per head, which could take them for a week, then they stay hungry for a month before the next distribution is made,” said Henry Rumumba, who is a local leader at the Kiboko A village, which has 20,000 inhabitants.
The children have been lucky to get some food at school, thanks to the ongoing school feeding program, but with most institutions closed with the ongoing teachers strike, they say life is becoming unbearable for them. The residents explained that with just one or no meal at all, the children are forced to depend on wild fruits, some of which are not fit for human consumption. One child was reported dead in the nearby Mwingi district earlier in the month, after feeding on poisonous wild fruits.
Malnutrition has also been reported in the area, and the Makindu District Hospital Medical Superintendent Saidi Shabaan said on Wednesday that children are worst affected. The Hospital, Dr Shabaan said, feeds the children with milk, eggs and porridge in the period they are being treated, but has nothing for them to take home.
“So far we have received 93 children with Kwashiorkor and 331 with growth retardation,” said the doctor, adding that one child was in a critical condition, suffering from severe malnutrition.
Lower Eastern region Red Cross coordinator Munyao Yulu has said that the area and indeed the entire region will require food support for at least another four months.
“If we have the long rains in the next two months, the earliest we can expect anything from the shambas (farms) is June,” he said.
At least 10 million Kenyans are faced with hunger with an estimated deficit of 10 million bags of maize, according to the government, which has declared the ongoing famine a national disaster and launched an international appeal for Sh37 billion worth of relief food.
The government has also removed import duty on all food items to help ease the shortage.