Oxfam responds to the Kenya food crisis
Yet again, millions of Kenyans are staring hunger in the face as a result of a severe drought and increasing fuel and food prices.
Fatuma Ahmed, a 39 year old mother of seven from Wajir district in the northeast, is one of them. She has so far lost a total of 60 animals, including cattle, goats and sheep.
“It is a desperate situation, and if nothing is done, it is not only livestock that will die,” she says in despair.
Across northern Kenya, pastoralist families like Fatuma’s continue to suffer as a result of the failed rains of 2010 and 2011. Scarcity of water is one of the most serious concerns, as both quality and quantity has declined with the same water source being used by both humans and animals.
“We have to walk long distances, sometimes up to 45 kilometers, in search of water for both our own use and for the livestock,” says Fatuma.
Some areas have reported increased conflict over grazing land and water as well, leading to loss of human and animal lives.
Kenya has experienced recurrent drought over the last 25 years, especially in these marginalized parts of the country known as the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs).
However, Kenya’s food crisis has not only hit the arid areas. A recent Oxfam and IDS report on how the 2011 rise in food prices is affecting poor people shows that families in Nairobi’s Mukuru slums have resorted to detrimental ways of skipping meals, and eating less and lower quality foods to cope.
Esther Wangari, a 28 year old single mother with five children, lives in Mukuru. She admits, “Life has become so hard. We eat one meal a day and that’s at night. In most cases we take Ugali (maize meal) and serve it with tomato soup or salty water.”
A 2kg packet of maize flour (the country’s staple food) now retails at 135 Kenyan shillings (about $1.50), up from 80 shillings in April. This amount is very high for most urban dwellers, the majority of whom live on less than a dollar a day.
So what is Oxfam doing in Kenya in the current crisis?
Oxfam is leading on the “La Nina Project” in a consortium of five international organizations (also including VSF-Swiss, VSF-Belgium, VSF-Germany and ACTED) working together with local partners including the Arid Lands Development Fund (ALDEF), the Wajir South Development Association (WASDA), and DPA. The program is being rolled out across the ASALs, in Wajir, Turkana, Mandera, Garissa, Isiolo, Marsabit, Baringo and West Pokot.
Activities include “Cash for Work,” where members from the affected communities engage in manual work like de-silting dams, planting trees and (on Lake Turkana) making fishing nets, in exchange for cash. Jobs are scarce so this helps families with an income.
The project is also repairing broken water systems that are close to pasture, as well as providing health care for animals – the main assets in the ASAL regions – through de-worming and vaccinating livestock against disease.
With Oxfam’s funding appeal we are planning to scale up this project by reaching 1.3 million people or more, expanding water and sanitation projects, and supporting community efforts to mitigate the rise in conflicts.
We are also distributing food in Turkana through local traders. There is not enough food, but it ensures that people’s basic requirements are at least partially met. This way it not only helps to ensure the most vulnerable families have something to eat in the face of rising food prices, but also strengthens the livelihoods of local traders and producers.
The ongoing four-year Hunger Safety Net Program (HSNP), operating in the greater Turkana region, provides a regular supply of cash to 246,000 vulnerable people to help them meet their basic needs.
We also continue to work in places like Mukuru, with cash-for-work programs that help Nairobi’s urban poor cope with the rising food prices. Our advocacy work also aims to influence and inform better policies and interventions by the Kenyan government and humanitarian partners.