Residents fetch water from a scoop hole along a dry river in Kalakol, Turkana Central, Turkana County. (Photo: Eliud Kipsang/Standard)
She stares thoughtfully into the distance, tears welling up in her tired eyes.
Her fragile frame and thin legs tell of the devastating drought that has hit Kokuro village in Turkana North.
The stench of animal carcasses sweeps across the dry semi-arid plains. A whirlwind, which according to Turkana beliefs symbolises a continued dry spell, cuts across the valley of death, a sign that better days are nowhere near.
Akai Emoit, a mother of five, is a worried woman. She says for many days and nights, her family has been forced to go to bed hungry.
“I am very sad because the drought is taking a toll on us. There are countless nights that my children, husband and I have been forced to sleep hungry. We are very scared because we do not know how long we will last. My children cannot go to school anymore because there is no food for them there. They prefer to stay home and eat wild fruits from the duom palm trees,” she says.
When the family gets a little maize from Government relief programmes or well-wishers, they are forced to share it with their emaciated livestock.
“We are sometimes forced to prioritise who gets the food when it is too little. When our children are better we surrender the little maize to the livestock because we are scared that we will have nothing soon as each day, our animals die,” Ms Emoit says.
Figures released by State House spokesperson Manoah Esipisu during his weekly briefings underline the seriousness of the situation.
So far, 23 counties have been affected by the drought, with the number of people in need of relief food shooting from 1.3 million in August 2016 to close to three million today.
Food prices have also shot up and are currently between 10 and 25 per cent above their five-year averages, and will probably rise further.
Acute malnutrition levels, at above 30 per cent, have been recorded in Turkana, Turkana North, Mandera, Marsabit and North Horr. Critical levels of malnutrition have also been recorded in Baringo East and Isiolo.
In Turkana, some residents have opted to eat livestock that succumb to the drought as a remedial measure to starvation, leading to more pain from the deadly risk of eating uninspected meat.
Akuwom Lokuruka, 30, is mourning a relative who died a few days after eating the carcass of a goat in Kakelae village, Turkana North sub-county.
Food prices soar as pockets run empty
Her four children who ate the same meat are sick and she is worried that they may die.
“My children are staring at death. They are sick, weak and malnourished due to starvation. They eat the remains of dead animals,” says Ms Akuwom.
She says the carcasses litter remote villages and have been the sole source of meals for starving villagers.
“We are suffering and there is no medical facility nearby where I can take my sick children. I am worried I could lose them as they are all suffering from diarrhoea that is dehydrating them,” she says.
Kevina Akai, a resident of Kaeris in Turkana North, says their livestock are now feeding on human faeces.
The education sector has been affected as most children have migrated to different counties with their parents thus making it impossible to continue studying.
Hundreds of pastoralists have migrated to neighbouring Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
Turkana Woman Representative Joyce Emanikor has urged the national government to supply food to schools to enable pupils to stay in school.
Water pans, boreholes and rivers have all dried up, forcing people to dig killer wells along the dry river beds. Last week, an eight-year-old girl from Kerio in Turkana Central was buried alive when the walls of a well collapsed on her.
Agnes Mana, the Turkana County health chief officer, described the drought situation as “severe”, saying unless quick measures were taken, lives were likely to be lost soon.
The Government has so far allocated Sh5.4 billion in the first stage of drought mitigation interventions for the period November 2016 to January 2017.
For the second phase, covering February to April, an additional Sh11.6 billion is required. Phase Three, between April and August, needs another Sh7.1 billion.
That help is required urgently is not in doubt. Ms Mana says health facilities in the region have been overwhelmed by malnourished children and notes that elderly, pregnant and lactating women were also at high risk of malnutrition.
According to Mana, about 150,000 children are at risk of malnutrition in the region, with 7,000 facing severe malnutrition. She says another 30,000 face moderate malnutrition.
Hundreds too weak as famine ravages region
Mana reveals that residents of Kibish in Turkana North sub-county face a global acute malnutrition rate that has hit 31 per cent.
She says cholera is bound to break out in the region as hunger victims eat dead livestock and scramble to share scarce water sources with animals.
“Several hunger victims are at risk of contracting waterborne diseases as they eat the carcasses of livestock. We are planning to bury the dead animals to avert an eruption of cholera when it rains,” she says.
Lodwar Referral Hospital boss Gilchrist Lokoel says access to clean water has become a nightmare for local residents since most sources have dried up.
“It is worrying that most hunger-related cases received in hospital show signs of dehydration. Others show symptoms of trachoma as a result of not washing their faces due to lack of water,” Dr Lokoel explains.
He adds that cases of tuberculosis have been reported in Todonyang and Lowarengak along the Kenya-Ethiopia border, adding that most residents tend to develop low immunity as a result of bad air.
“We appeal to the national government to provide a supplementary feeding programme for children under five years as well as pregnant and lactating women who are now at high risk of malnutrition. We should not wait to lose people,” says Lokoel.
There has been a growing concern that the drought has also forced some schools to close after a feeding programme collapsed.
According to Kenya Red Cross Society Co-ordinator Rukia Abubakar, childhood development centres have closed down due to persistent hunger and shortage of food in the region.
“Children were sent home where they are facing imminent starvation with their families. The food crisis is real, people are really suffering. We require urgent food aid in the region,” Ms Rukia says.
Residents of Turkana County have also blamed the drought for the skyrocketing cost of food.
Janet Nabuin, a resident of Lodwar, claims it has become hard for families to put food on the table as prices of basic commodities like white maize flour, beans, sugar and cooking oil have shot through the roof.
Nabuin says 2kg of maize is retailing at Sh150, 1kg of beans at Sh200 and 1kg of cooking fat at Sh150. Vegetables, which are rare, are selling at Sh100 a bunch.
“We cannot afford food for our families because the prices are very high. We are relying on one meal a day, which we sometimes cannot find. Most businesses are on the verge of collapse.”
Turkana County Commissioner Stephen Ikua says the Government will ensure that nobody dies of hunger.