2008–2009 Kenya Drought. Between 2008 and early 2010, Kenya, one of the countries of Eastern Africa, was affected by a severe drought, which put ten million people at risk of hunger and caused a large number of deaths to livestock in Kenyan Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs), constituting around 88% of the country.
The areas which experienced the worst effects were Northern Kenya, Somalia and Southern Ethiopia, most severely in Kajiado and Laikipia. These predominantly pastoral regions reported deaths of up to half of the livestock. Droughts in Kenya have become more frequent causing crop failures and devastation as three-quarters of the population are sustained by agriculture.
Owning to the lack of annual rainfall, the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya (ASALs) are very susceptible to drought and flooding. These lands are impacted by the increasing effects of climate change
and the risk of desertification
. Water scarcity
leaves unimproved water supplies for the majority of the population, so these places tend to be marginalized
, and have high rates of poverty
Kenya experienced limited rainfall in 2008 from October to December, followed by a similar situation in 2009. The Kenyan Red Cross conducted assessment reports indicating the risk of starvation for millions of Kenyans, resulting in an appeal to the international donor community for food aid.
Kenya has been supported by a drought management system since 1980. The system includes policies and strategies, an early warning system, a funded contingency plan, and overall drought coordination and response structure. Despite that, at the end of the 2008–2009 drought, the European Union delegation considered that a review of the responses to this drought would have been appropriate, in order to strengthen the efficiency of the drought management and alleviate its consequences. The system became the responsibility of the National Drought Management Authority, established in 2011
Agriculture supports around 75% of the Kenyan population and accounts for 25.9% of the GDP, making it one of the leading means of sustenance of the country and a significant contributor to employment and food security; on the other hand, droughts caused by climate change have put a strain on agriculture and the country itself to the extent that in January 2009 the Government declared a state of emergency, because ten million Kenyans needed food aid after a poor harvest.
In the North of the country, by April, 30% of the population was suffering from acute malnutrition because the “long rains” of 2009 failed, and some areas of the country were already worn out by five years of consecutive droughts.
The shortage of food was also worsened by a political crisis caused by a disputed election in early 2008. This provoked a climate of violence in the East of the country which drove away farmers who were unable to return in time to plant maize in the planting season. This lead to food, water, and power shortages throughout the country.
In 2011 the USAID youth program, which works closely with Feed the Future, brought groups of young mothers together to improve food security, working on nutrition. Cultivating vegetables and legumes they have been improving their health and that of their infants, in a shared urban farm in Mombasa. Making sure that children are well-fed is eminent as malnutrition in childhood and pregnancy has many adverse consequences for child survival and long-term well-being. Food-borne illnesses are often caused by bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens that affect human health. Food security issues were also created by violations in trade standards, resulting in the exclusion of food from international, regional, and local markets.
Effects on the Maasai pastoralists
In Kenya, pastoralism represents a mainstay source of sustenance, providing livelihood, security, and employment opportunities (around 90% of the population). It It is impacted by droughts, that directly impact livestock assets of pastoral households.
Maasai pastoralists are traditionally semi-nomad and practice seasonal transhumance from dry to wet season pastures. The severe drought of 2009 has prompted pastoralists in Northern Kenya to abandon their traditional lifestyles (like in the 2005 drought) due to the harsh living conditions and the destruction of their pastures by drought, overgrazing, and soil erosion. In conditions of extreme drought, some pastoralists tried to dig down into dry riverbeds and water pans looking for water and others moved onto highland pastures in Mt.Kenya. These responses were eventually unsuccessful due to the increasing number of livestock deaths (it is estimated that over 38.000 cattle died). The high number of losses also constituted a social implication for the Maasai, who as a tradition measure their wealth on the dimension of their herds. Due to the high mortality rate at the time, there was a major decline in livestock. This raised the prices of milk and other livestock items, which adversely affected hunger levels and lowered income levels. Land degradation also increased due to livestock competition from pastures and water.
To cope with the drought in the short term the Maasai developed four strategies. The first was to take their animals to graze very early in the morning when the grass is covered with dew. The second was to guard reserve pastures on their higher lands while the grass regenerated so that it can be used during drought. The third strategy was to increase the length of their migrations as the gravity of the drought worsened. The last method was to dig shallow wells in dry riverbeds during migrations to acquire water.
Two long-term solutions were developed. The first was to keep livestock of mixed-species; in addition to the traditional herd composed by grazers (cattle and sheep) and browsers (goats), pastoralists added donkeys and camels. Different animal species adapt differently to drought and this method ensured that at least part of the herd survived in a specific climatic event. The second method was to increase the size of their herds during wetter periods, so they have some animals left at the end of a drought period.
Climate change has been playing an important role in Kenya’s droughts, reducing the drought cycle from every ten years to annual events. When the cycle of droughts in Kenya occurred every ten years, farmers had recovery time to rebuild their livestock and crops before the next drought. When the recovery time dropped to two years, this recovery was no longer possible.
Dryness is not the only outcome of climate change: rains have decreased during the long rainy season (from March to May), but have registered an increase from September to February causing an extension of the normal rainfall period (October to December), which, together with growing intensity and strength, has created vulnerability to floods.
The table below displays data of the average monthly rainfall of Kenya from 1901 to 2016, compared with the predicted changes for 2080–2099
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