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Why are Kenyans left on their own and suffering devastating drought in silence?

While international news crews are busy filing shocking reports on the devastating drought in Northern Kenya, the silence in local Kenyan media is deafening. We’re on election countdown, so national papers are trailing the political elite, predicting outcomes and acknowledging the billions of shillings being spent on campaign electioneering.

Meanwhile the drought is biting hard in the north, largely undiscussed in policy debates or at rallies Four failed rains and compounding stress from the Covid damaged economy and what Oxfam is calling food inflation have brought people to their knees.

I’ve lived and worked in northern Kenya for more than 30 years and this drought is the worst I’ve seen. The famously resilient pastoralists are desperately trying to keep their remaining animals alive and battling for food and water, all coping strategies exhausted.

On a recent trip to Samburu, a woman cried as she described her pain at not being able to help a neighbour and her children, because she didn’t have enough food to share. Elders in southern Marsabit say all the families have left their bomas and followed the livestock to the few functioning water points, because the only chance of eating or drinking lies in the fate of these remaining animals.  The few children left behind to attend school are struggling. I learned of a small boy who carries a tin to school every day so he can store the food he gets for lunch and take it back for his grandmother.

Given this is the worst crisis in decades, we should expect to see an influx of emergency response in the worst affected regions. 

In 2011, the Kenya Red Cross was all over the media with a big campaign to raise donations from the public for the drought. They succeeded and their volunteers were seen distributing food, cash and health care in hard hit Turkana. In 2017, the newly formed county governments were keen to show their people what they could do and there was response in all sectors. Where is everyone now?

Colleagues in the international aid system tell me they have started drought response activities and the government reports list activities in every county, including expensive and inefficient water trucking. But this is not visible on the ground. Rumours of politicised aid are everywhere and many communities say they have received no help at all, no livestock offtake, no food, no cash and no water trucking. They are left to fend for themselves and they are exhausted.

Our silence makes us accomplices to this deadly drought’s horrific impacts.

People’s lives are dependent on us being honest about the dire situation in the north. Aid agencies and local government shouldn’t sit quietly until after the election, just because the candidates don’t want to hear bad news. Whoever wins the election will inherit a live emergency to respond to, and for starving children in hospitals and on the move seeking help, every second already counts.

Let’s make more noise! And hold government and aid organisations to account for the aid they are supposed to be providing!!

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