Northern Kenya risks another humanitarian crisis due to a failure to prepare for predicted heavy rains, one year after a biting drought that pushed millions into hunger, charity Oxfam has warned.
In 2011, there was a national disaster in Kenya due to prolonged, biting drought. More than two million people needed food aid and many children died. The United Nations (U.N.) categorised the situation as an emergency, one level short of a famine.
Now El Nino conditions are developing in the region, with the expectation of wetter-than-normal October to December rains in Kenya. These often lead to floods, increased human and animal diseases, harvest losses and damage to infrastructure.
“Recovery due to improved rains in northern Kenya is still fragile and households and communities would need support to save their livelihoods in the event of other shocks/stresses associated with either El Nino or La Nina events that have been predicted,” Oxfam said in a post-drought analysis of Turkana and Wajir, areas hard-hit by the 2011 drought.
El Nino is a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific that occurs every four to 12 years. It is the opposite of the very closely related La Nina pattern, which causes drought in East Africa. Intense back-to-back La Nina episodes occurred during 2010-12.
The cycle of extreme weather conditions could continue into next year.
“La Nina may soon follow the expected El Nino conditions, meaning that 2013 may also be a dry year with poor performing rains,” Oxfam said.
Floods are harder to respond to than droughts because roads get cut off, making it hard to reach displaced people. It is best to preposition food and medicines in areas likely to be affected.
But this is not being done, Oxfam said.
“The level of preparedness for a mild El Nino event at community, county and national levels is poor,” it said.
“At the time of the assessment [August] funds had not been put aside and no plans appeared to be underway within GoK [the Government of Kenya] to manage an El Nino event.”
Northern Kenya is extremely vulnerable to food security as the land is semi-arid and the livestock upon which nomadic communities traditionally depend are regularly wiped out by recurring droughts. Insecurity also forces people to flee their homes, pushing them deeper into poverty.
Malnutrition rates in parts of the north are still above the emergency threshold of 15 percent.
In Turkana North, malnutrition was 15.3 percent in May 2012, down from 37.4 percent the previous May, Oxfam found.