By Gift Briton

Nearly five million people across 23 arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) counties in Kenya, are facing acute food insecurity and consequently requiring humanitarian assistance.

This is according to the 2022 short rains season assessment report, conducted between 11th January and 10th February 2023.

The number of food insecure population in need of humanitarian assistance have increased from 3.5 million people in July 2022 to the current 4.4 million people, the report notes.

Among them, 495,362 were identified in nine traditionally non-ASAL counties including Machakos, Homa Bay, Migori, Siaya, Elgeyo Marakwet, Kiambu, Nakuru, Kirinyaga and Murang’a.

The report also found out that over 970,000 children under the age of five years and 142,000 pregnant and lactating women are acutely malnourished across the 23 counties assessed.

Furthermore, out of the 4.4 million food-insecure people, approximately 3.6 million are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) while the remaining 800,000 are in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), with counties of Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir and Garissa having the highest proportions (55%) of their populations in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and above.

According to the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) report, the deteriorating food insecurity in the 23 counties is driven by prolonged draught due the poor performance of 2020 short rains which was below average and characterized by late onset and poor distribution both in time and space.

Consequently, the poor rainfall performance, in addition to other drivers, led to below average crop production significantly reducing household food availability, access and consumption.

Experts now predict that the food situation will further worsen during the long rains season owing to the forecasted below normal rains further exacerbating drought conditions with the population facing acute food insecurity expected to reach 5.4 million by June 2023.

The poor rainfall performance also led to decline in livestock productivity leading to up to 70% decline in milk production across most pastoral areas.

Livestock diseases were also reported across different areas including an unidentified camel disease outbreak reported in Garissa County during the short rains season affecting production and marketability of livestock and an outbreak of Anthrax, resulting in 1000 camel deaths in Wajir County.

Since October 2022, livestock mortalities (driven by starvation, dehydration and disease as a result of the drought) were reported across several pastoral and marginal mixed faming zones, including the death of 203,198 cattle, 584,250 goats, 615,407 sheep and 83,456 camels across Marsabit, Turkana and Samburu counties.

Equally, the counties of Kajiado, Laikipia and Nyeri recorded a total of 475,363 livestock deaths due to the ongoing drought (270,354 cattle, 141,620 sheep and 63,983 goats.

Prices of staple foods also remain high driven by the below-average harvests in the country and across the East Africa region in addition to rising prices in the regional surplus-producing countries of Uganda, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.

“It is crucial that more funding is availed to support humanitarian assistance efforts and sectoral interventions to effectively mitigate the worsening acute food insecurity in the coming months keeping in mind the high likelihood of another below average rainfall season over the March to May long rains period ,” the report reads.