Makena Mwobobia is ActionAid Kenya’s Head of Programmes. She has more than twenty years of development experience and has worked across Africa.
More than 3 million people in Kenya are impacted by the drought across East Africa, with the worst affected living in the arid and semi-arid lands across the country. The rains have been depressed over the past year and pastoralists are very badly impacted, their livelihoods destroyed and their families suffering. FIfteeen of the 23 arid and semi-arid counties are now in the emergency category.
Food has become more expensive due to the drought
There is no food in the markets and where food is available it is no longer affordable. One kilo of maize used to cost 20 Kenyan shillings but now it's 50 Kenyan shillings. Finding food and accessing potable water and pasture is a huge challenge to communities.
Livestock has died and animals are sick and weak. The value of livestock has gone down in the market and there is no longer the same demand as there was because the drought has impacted business. Water sources have started drying up which is creating anxiety and impacting heavily on lives, especially women’s lives and their safety.
Women shoulder the heaviest burden
Women are trekking longer distances to find water, in many cases walking on average nine kilometres or more to find water. Women have said they feel vulnerable to being targeted in sexual attacks. They have also told us that they are no longer going into the forest to collect firewood because they fear sexual attacks. We have heard from women that they are being told if they offer sex they will be able to access the forest for firewood.
Many women are now left to take care of themselves, their children and the elderly. The men have migrated to find pasture and water for the livestock. This makes women vulnerable.
There are many protection issues and this drought is impacting the way of life and the family structures.
There is pressure on these families and where there are children attending school, girls are being taken out of school to support their mothers and family members.
When a girl is removed from school it will impact her entire life as she may as she may not have the opportunity of returning to school again. Some early marriages have been reported in some cases. This is just one consequence of the drought on girls. Child labour is also increasing as children are forced to look for work to help their families.
ActionAid supports local, women-led response
In the past we have seen emergency response led by men only and the needs of women – particularly pregnant women and lactating mothers – were ignored or not adequately addressed.
ActionAid believes that we need address the immediate concerns but also to focus on long-term solutions, and women must be at the heart of the humanitarian response. We work with women's groups and community-led disaster committees to ensure the most vulnerable in the communities receive assistance, and the affected communities participate in the response.
When women are at the centre of the response there is a shift in power in processes and decision making. We have also found there is also greater accountability and transparency.
We work along with women and citizens' forums for integrating accountability in the processes. ActionAid is committed to working in an accountable and transparent way that reflects and meets the needs of communities.
In Kenya, ActionAid's emergency response is:
- carrying out urgent rehabilitation of water sources so communities can access immediately potable water
- providing food for vulnerable households
- providing school feeding programmes for 46 schools
- training local women leaders on drought risk preparedness, resilience building and protecting women's rights.
We have already reached 98,000 people and hope to reach 179,467 people in total.