More funding needed to reduce malnutrition caused by drought in Kenya

Martin Karimi
Apr 28, 2017 · 5 min read

Northern Kenya is in the grips of a devastating drought. Two failed rainy seasons have seen the number of people in need of food assistance double from 1.3 million in mid-2016, to 2.6 million by February 2017. Malnutrition levels among children under the age of five have surpassed 30 percent in parts of Turkana, Mandera, and Marsabit counties. To prevent a further increase in malnutrition, WFP is urging for support to enable it to provide fortified supplementary food for all children from six to 59 months old and all pregnant and breastfeeding mothers in the five arid counties with malnutrition rates above 20 percent — above the emergency threshold of 15 percent.

A child’s mid-upper arm circumference showing moderate acute malnutrition. WFP/Martin Karimi.

Turkana North is one of the regions hardest hit by the drought affecting swathes of northern Kenya. Livestock is an important source of meat, milk and cash for families here. In Lokumae village, the vast terrain offers little forage for the few animals left here. Goats nibble at the bare ground under sweltering temperatures.

“These are the goats that I have lost to the drought,” says John Ekeno, as he dumps a stack of skins and hides in front of aid workers in protest. “We have no food to give our children.”

Prices for livestock have plummeted while prices of basic food such as maize and beans have risen, further eroding the ability of families to get enough food. John says that currently a goat can only fetch around 1,000 Kenyan shillings (US$10), down from 3,000 to 4,000 (US$30–40) prior to the onset of the drought.

WFP is providing specialized nutritious foods to treat moderately malnourished mothers and children. WFP/Martin Karimi.

Mobile screening

In this region, Save the Children and the County Government of Turkana are organizing mobile clinics to screen and treat malnourished mothers and children. WFP is providing specialized nutritious foods to treat moderately malnourished mothers and children, including corn-soya blend and ready-to-use foods.

“We are treating people with acute malnutrition through health dispensaries and mobile outreach centres,” said Jemester Kakuta, nutrition coordinator for Turkana North sub-county.

Eleven-month-old Ewoi Ayanae was admitted to the outpatient therapeutic programme two weeks ago with acute malnutrition. This is his second visit to one of the mobile nutrition screening centres.

“I do not have any milk to give him,” said Veronika Emoru, Ewoi’s mother. “That is why he fell ill.”

John Ekeno, a herder, says he has lost all his animals to the drought and has no food to give to his family. WFP/Martin Karimi.

Severe food shortage

Many families in parts of Turkana North do not have enough to eat. They say that the relief supplies have been little and deliveries too seldom.

“I haven’t eaten anything today, and I don’t have any food to cook for dinner,” said Naweet Lomotimoe, a mother of seven.

Naweet is six months pregnant. Based on her mid-upper-arm circumference, she is malnourished. Naweet took her four younger children for screening as well; three were found to be malnourished.

“We had 20 goats, but when half of them died, my husband decided to go look for pasture near the Ethiopian border. Now, I just got word that only four goats remain,” said Naweet solemnly. “If those die, I’m afraid that hunger will kill us.”

Following screening, Naweet was given 3.5 kilogrammes of corn-soya blend, a nutritious fortified flour to treat her condition, while her children got a two-week supply of ready to use nutritious paste. The corn-soya blend should have lasted Naweet for two weeks, until the next round of distributions. But she had no other food. So she cooked the whole portion on the day that she received it and shared it with her children, including one who is married in the same village.

“One of the biggest challenges that the nutrition sector is facing in Turkana North is sharing of the nutrition products among siblings,” said Jemester. “The products are like medicine — they are supposed to be eaten in addition to a normal diet, not instead of one, and not shared with other people in the household. The affected children and mothers will take long to recover if they do not eat the required amount of nutritious foods.”

Six months pregnant Naweet Lomotimoe is malnourished and so is three of her younger children. WFP/Martin Karimi.

Growing requirements

The need for nutrition products has outstripped supply. As a result of the drought, almost 344,000 children are suffering from acute malnutrition in the 23 counties classified as arid or semi-arid. Of these, 75,000 children require treatment for severe acute malnutrition, and the remainder for moderate acute malnutrition. Another 37,000 malnourished pregnant and breastfeeding mothers also require treatment for malnutrition.

WFP staff helps distribute ready-to-use foods for the treatment of moderate acute malnutrition. WFP/Martin Karimi.

The Government of Kenya, UNICEF, the County Government of Turkana, WFP and other partners are working together to support and provide nutrition products required to treat severe and moderate acute malnutrition in the 23 counties.

In line with its mandate, WFP is rolling out a plan to provide fortified supplementary food for all children from six to 59 months old and all pregnant and breastfeeding mothers in Mandera, Marsabit, Turkana, Isiolo and Baringo — the five arid counties with malnutrition rates above 20 percent — above the emergency threshold of 15 percent. This will cover 430,000 children under the age of five and 115,000 pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, regardless of their nutritional status.

To do this, WFP urgently requires US$32.6 million to prevent further increases in malnutrition.

Ongoing assistance

The national and county governments have been distributing relief food to affected families across the county. Turkana is also one of the four counties covered by the Hunger Safety Net Programme, a national safety net providing financial support to some of the most vulnerable people.

In Turkana County, WFP provides relief assistance through monthly food transfers to 91,000 people enrolled in asset-creation activities, while emergency relief efforts are spearheaded by the county government.

WFP remains a strong technical partner to both the national and county governments in the emergency relief efforts in Kenya.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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