Two years ago, parts of East Africa experienced their worst drought in 60 years, leaving over 13 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.
Here in Kenya, where ActionAid’s drought and food crisis response is focused, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance at the peak of the crisis was around 3.2 million.
The impact of the crisis resulted in women walking long distances in search of food and water - some resorted to the potentially life-threatening practice of binding their stomachs with rope in order to stave off hunger, creating serious health risks. In addition, we received reports of young school girls between the ages of 13 and 15 being married off by their families, in order to obtain livestock.
Over the past two years, ActionAid’s response to the drought and food crisis has supported 541,044 people in Kenya – to date we have spent £3,380,470.
Our long-term areas of work include supporting access to basic needs, promoting income and livelihood diversification, promoting women’s leadership in natural resource management, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, promoting women and girls’ protection and supporting communities to claim the rights they are entitled to. There is still a lot of work to do to, to allow us to prepare for future disasters through greater focus on building resilience of poor and vulnerable groups to drought through disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation programmes and policies.
At the political level, governments are at various stages of policy development and engaging with the issue of disasters. Change adaptation is urgently needed and there is limited capacity at the national level to integrate it across sectoral policies and development programmes. However, the Kenyan government has developed some useful frameworks, such as the Irrigation Act and Strategy, to address vulnerability to climate induced and other shocks in Kenya.
Another significant recent development is the November 2012 establishment of the National Drought Management Authority and the National Drought Contingency Fund, which create a framework for coordination of all drought management issues, including preparedness and emergency response. It is also designed to foster the formulation of policies aiming to ensure that droughts are not handled as emergencies, but rather within the context of overall development planning.
The current challenge is how the National Drought Management Authority will work with the county governments on this.