By Liz Busisa

Whenever I think of drought, a picture of a very dry and cracked ground with no signs of water sources or green vegetation whatsoever comes to mind. I think of a people who are emaciated because there hasn’t been a drop of rainfall for as long as they can remember. Drought creates a sense of a dying people who have no food and because of this, they cannot afford to feed even their small herds of livestock which eventually kick the bucket as a result of hunger. Nothing much happens around their homesteads. I see a picture of a dry sufuria of ugali or rice that had food two and a half weeks ago. The fire place is as dry as the Hamattan Winds. No trees to cast shades for them to take shelter from the brutal, scorching sun. What of the children? They trek long distances to search for the nearest waterhole to get at least a liter of water to take back home.

Yes. These are the harsh truths of what drought can do to a homestead. Imagine an entire region, say northern Kenya. Drought is characterized by below average rainfall. Do not confuse this with famine as famine is characterized by over 30% global acute malnutrition rates. This is a topic for another season.

Drought is a disaster causing hazard in Kenya and it largely affects Vision 2030, a vision that has the Kenyan child in its top agenda. Shocking as I first heard, 23 out of the 47 counties in Kenya are prone to drought risk. These are the Arid and Semi-Arid Land areas which are mainly the north and north eastern parts of the country. However, this disaster has spread to more than the 23 counties between 2016 and 2017 because there were significant food and water shortages in the country. These facts are just part of what I need to discuss here. The core of this piece is how drought affects the Kenyan child and what can be done or recommended to be done to avert this disaster.

Children represent over 50% of Kenya’s population yet they are the most forgotten people when making the most important decisions affecting them. Drought is acknowledged as a disaster causing hazard in the country and children have been massively affected by it. It is estimated 300,000 children needing to be placed under urgent blanket supplementary feeding programme. More than 1.2 million children of school going age are in need of urgent school attendance basic essentials and a sustainable school feeding program and  Close to 150,000 children are at risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation

Despite these challenges and many more, the government has made efforts in managing these effects. For instance, the government has established supplementary feeding for the malnourished children especially in schools. This has increased the number of school going children, which is an encouraging gesture. The government has also stated mobile schools in the arid and semi-arid counties as well as having early warning systems for drought followed by seasonal assessment. All these and other social safety nets have slightly aided the situation but have not completely conquered the disaster.

This brings me to the way forward in completely eradicating this disaster. Policies need to be enacted especially at the county level. In return, there shall be organized resource distribution and management for the organizations that work with children in the specific counties. There is also the need to research on possible interventions that are as practicable as possible and not just appealing on paper. Not to mention, the government needs to establish a tax system whereby the revenue will be directed to funding children support mechanisms. The government should construct drought homes for children under the age of five years, so as to curb the high mortality rates that come as a result of drought. The government also ought to have working early warning mechanisms. Such mechanisms are important because they influence early planning and better disaster management by the relevant institutions.

Having all these rosy plans, it would be very promising for the organizations working with children to witness firsthand the actualization of these plans for the benefit of the children. I applaud the efforts made by World Vision, Save the Children Kenya, Kenya National Human Rights Commission, National Gender and Equality Commission, Child Fund, Department for Children Services among many other institutions, for shining a light on the plight of children affected by drought. It takes us all to save our children from natural disasters like drought.

Liz Busisa is a Child and Legal Policy reporter at Mtoto News

Mtoto News is an online platform of news, information and resources that aims at making significant change in the lives of children by making them visible. Read mtotonews.com  or follow us on twitter and Facebook @mtotonews

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