Dry water pans and food aid

After reading the story of Teddy, you may be asking the same thing I asked – why does the government just sit there? So I asked around and found the drought management officer, Mr Wafula. I went with his team to the driest part of Kilifi. World Vision was distributing food and I wanted to see what was going on there. This first photo shows you just how dry this place can get. The large dip is a man-made water pan that had been serving the homes in the background and beyond with water.
Dry water pan

‘When people say, the government is doing nothing, I am greatly frustrated. The arid lands project is the coordinating arm of food security issues in the District. The government does not do humanitarian work but contracts it to agents. In Kilifi, they collaborate with World Vision, who distribute the food on behalf of the government and the World Food Program. We may not be the face on the ground, but we are very much involved,’ said Bethuel Wafula, the drought management officer in the Arid Lands and Resource Management Program of Kilifi.

The biggest responsibility of the drought management office is to co-ordinate drought impact interventions through producing monthly early warning bulletins in the 28 district of the Northern frontier and the Coast, that are most vulnerable to drought. These government bulletins are send to the Kenya Food Steering Group to enable interventions which include: providing relief food, maintaining school feeding programs and supplementary feeding for pre-school children at health facilities and through various stakeholders, establishing projects to reduce the effects of future droughts.

Most agencies will go through the District Steering Group to ensure that there is no duplication of efforts and that the relief efforts target the most needy households. One such charity from Germany known as ‘German Union of Friends of East Africa Help St Luke’s’, donated about 13.8 tonnes of cereals, 2.4 tonnes of beans, cooking oil and water to selected homes in Bamba, Ganze recently (10th September). The data collected by the drought management office was used to select the villages in most need of relief food. Staff from the World Vision, facilitated village barazas in which the most needy households were identified.
Food donation

On the day when the food was handed out, there was no pushing or scrambling. Women in brightly colored khangas listened patiently to the short speeches and then formed orderly queues to receive their ration; 25 kg of maize, 5 kg of beans, 1 liter of cooking oil and 40 liters of water. The most vulnerable had been self-selected and they knew they would not sleep hungry even though the rations would not last long.

Relief food is also given through the ‘Food for Assets’ program under the ‘Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation’. ‘The project was started by the government in 2009 in an effort to encourage community ownership of programs aimed at reducing the cycle of drought and hunger. Communities were given food in times of drought in exchange for work on projects that would improve future food security. Such projects include roads, rain water harvesting structures like water pans or dams, demonstration farms and tree nurseries. We also work with farmers to encourage diversifying livelihoods through encouraging bee keeping as well as livestock keeping to replace traditional cropping methods,’ said Stephen Musimba, the officer in charge of the ‘Food for Assets’ program.

The ministries of livestock, health, education and water are all involved in implementation of various programs to avert food insecurity. However, their appears to be a disconnect between their efforts and the food situation on the ground.

From estimates taken in August, the drought management office estimates that 100,000 people in Kilifi District are food insecure. This situation is likely to get worse within the coming months and more relief food will be needed until hopefully, the short-rain harvest.

But how did it get this bad?

‘Climate change is partly responsible. This year, the government distributed 20 million tonnes of free relief seed in the region during the long rains. The farmers worked hard. We could smell the coming harvest and then the rains failed. Two more weeks was all that was needed and hunger would have been averted,’ Mr Bethuel Wafula said.

‘But I agree that it is not the only reason. We have build dams like the one in Ndigiria. In the first year, the people had a great yield, but now the dam is full of water, yet its potential is not fully utilized. Community apathy to solutions on offer baffles me,’ said Mr Wafula.

‘Social factors must be addressed as well. Where I work, women do all the farming, it is extremely rare to see men. If men, who make the decisions in the home, take no responsibility in food production, the situation will not improve,’ said Mr Wafula.

‘People cut down forests for charcoal and cultivating maize which fails year after year. There is a refusal to accept change. We started a bee-keeping project to diversity people’s livelihoods but at the moment, only 37% of the hives are in use. However it is not all doom, some people are changing their livelihoods and becoming food secure. But the majority are not,’ Mr Musimba said.

Along the earth roads of Bamba, sacks of charcoal lean on mud houses. Very few trees dot the dry bushy landscape. ‘There is no other way to become food secure. We need to plant more drought resistant crops and it has to be through irrigation because the rains will continue to be inconsistent,’ concludes Mr Musimba.

I wrote this article in 2011 and I remember one of the things that struck me at the time when the food was being given out was the gender dynamics. The donations were being given to the women of the homes and while they struggled under bags of maize and beans, the men around them refused to help them carry the food. The people giving out the food had from experienced learned that the food was more likely to get to the children when it was given to the women. The whole situation seemed to me rather unfortunate as the men would of course eat the food after the women have collected the firewood and the water to cook it. A very unbalanced place to live as a woman. There are deep-seated issues here that will be sorted of course, but not from someone looking in from out.

  • Ogada

    I love your educative posts…. the lines don’t defer much from Kano Ahero area that I come from…. poverty and hunger is the usual cry! We (men) can terribly hinder development!

  • consolata

    I like the last sentence- “deep-seated issues here that will be sorted of course, but not from someone looking in from out”.