Many Kenyans, especially those in arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs), are grappling with the effects of drought characterised by water shortage and hunger. The perennial drought in nearly all the 23 ASAL counties has seen predominantly pastoralist communities incur massive losses through livestock deaths.
It is a reality check, once again, for National and County governments that citizens in more than half the country, year in, year out, depend on emergency measures, including food donation to avert disasters and a humanitarian crises.
Residents of Karare in Marsabit county, a fortnight ago, vented their frustration on county leaders who had visited the area, serving them muddy water to remind them of the extent of their suffering. Apart from walking long distances searching for water and pasture for their livestock, residents of ASALs contend with food insecurity, poor sanitation, malnutrition and diseases.
While climate change has compounded the situation, not enough has been done to alleviate the situation despite the existence of an inter-ministerial committee to address drought and famine.
True, climate change has led to extreme weather events that have resulted in diminished crop and livestock production. The Meteorological Department has forecast torrential rains and severe flooding in parts of the country from next month, which is set to enhance misery of residents already suffering effects of prolonged drought. Sadly, most ASAL communities often jump from drought directly to flooding menace.
Food insecurity leads to unsustainable import levels, and a negative impact on the economy. Political goodwill is paramount to champion and efficiently implementing proactive policies.
Problems relating to drought require a lasting solution. Since agriculture is a devolved function, the inter-ministerial team must work closely with county governments to find solutions.
Lessons on how to adapt to and mitigate to the negative impacts of the forces of nature on the livelihoods of millions of citizens abound.
Kenya is home to distinguished global research institutions such as the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe)and the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO).
These institutions and the Nairobi-headquartered UN Environment Programme have conducted many studies that have generated appropriate interventions through proven research findings to address challenges posed by environmental conditions.
Kenyans in the marginalised areas should be spared the vagaries of drought and famine that have grave repercussions on the economy. Only urgent solutions based on scientific research and empirical evidence will permanently tackle this problem.
Fortunately, Kenya has enacted the Climate Change Act, the first climate change-dedicated legislation in Africa. The regulatory framework focusses on sustainable development and priorities adaptation, recognising the importance of increasing the climate resilience of vulnerable groups and marginalised and minority populations in the ASALs.