20 counties now on hunger watch

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Seven more counties have been added to a hunger watch list by the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) as prolonged dry weather conditions continue to bite across the country.

This raises the number of food and water scarce counties to 20, with authorities warning that more devolved units could be affected as the traditional March-April-May long rains delay further.

Four of the 20 counties have been labelled as being in an “alarm drought stage”, according to a drought severity ranking by NDMA — which means residents in these counties require food aid and emergency water supplies to survive.

“The dry conditions and high temperatures experienced from January to March have pushed more counties into the alarm drought stage, from one in February to five in March,” says NDMA.

Counties in the “alarm drought phase’’ are Wajir, Mandera, Garissa and Turkana, all in northern Kenya. They rely heavily on pastoral activities and the current situation has affected their livelihood.

Among the other affected counties are Kwale, Narok, Kitui, Baringo, Tana River, Samburu, Embu (Mbeere), Taita Taveta, Nyeri (Kieni), West Pokot, Isiolo, Laikipia, Kilifi, Lamu, Makueni and Kajiado.

The NDMA said the average distance covered to water points for both household and livestock use increased in the five counties in March due to harsh weather conditions. Pasture has also been affected in most counties, hurting dairy production.

“Current milk production in 12 counties including Garissa, Turkana, Kajiado, Marsabit, Samburu, Tana River, Mandera, Laikipia, Narok, Makueni, Lamu and Nyeri (Kieni) is below expected season ranges compared to the long-term average,” the NDMA said.

The agency said the delayed start of the long rains season has affected land preparation and farming this year and has urged farmers to plant fast-maturing and drought-resistant crops.

The drought situation has worsened the food situation in the country with the prices of basic commodities rising in recent weeks. The cost of maize flour – a staple in many Kenyan homes – has gone up by about 28 percent in two weeks to hit a high of Sh117 for a two-kg packet, marking one of the steepest rises in a short span.

The cost of milk has also gone up with processors citing supply shortage from farmers as a result of the ongoing drought, which has seen a half-litre packet go up by Sh5 to retail at Sh55.

The move is likely to impact negatively on inflation, which in March shot to a two- month high of 4.35 percent from 4.14 percent in February, with Kenya National Bureau of Statistics attributing the rise to the high cost of food.

The drought conditions also threaten the country’s overall growth prospects amid fears of more expensive power that could affect the overall cost of production. The dry spell has also affected agriculture, which is a key contributor to the country’s economy.

Central Bank of Kenya Governor Patrick Njoroge on Tuesday hinted that the bank could lower its economic growth forecast for this year to 5.3 percent from 6.3 if the drought worsens.

The World Bank has already slashed its forecast for Kenya’s economic growth to 5.7 percent from 5.8 percent on account of the severe drought.

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