Don’t Blame Turkana Famine on the Current Drought

Perhaps nowhere in the world are the impacts of climate change more challenging than in the Turkana County of north-west Kenya. Don’t blame it on the current drought crisis. Though millions of people across the Horn of Africa are facing starvation, the situation in Turkana is catastrophic. Constant raids are a daily life struggle. The overwhelming bulk of evidence, from every corner of Turkana, is right in front of our eyes and cannot be ignored.

Since May, all corners of the County have been under attack from Kenyan Pokot and militia groups from neigbouring Ethiopia, Uganda and South Sudan. The region has been a battlefield of raids and famine. In the past month, while Kenya was uniting to help hungry citizens through the Kenyans for Kenyans initiative, Pokot were busy raiding villages in Turkana South District. This is a threat to peace in the country. The frequent attacks on civilians by armed militias like Pokot pose a major challenge in the efforts by humanitarian agencies to save lives of starving populations. We are worried that food aid might not reach the hungriest and this will increase their suffering.

The government has to face up to the challenges that are bearing down on poor Turkana people—constant insecurity, hunger and destitution. The government should tame the Pokot rustlers and their lords from launching attacks on Turkana, Samburu, Marakwet, Bukusu, Ilchamus—and the list is endless. This is an act of terrorism and should be condemned and punished. As we unite to help famine-stricken Kenyans, we should unite against the constant insecurity in north Rift. Those hungry Turkana villagers may never live to eat the food you are donating today.

Finding out a solution to end food poverty in Turkana should not be left to the UN, donors, civil society organizations, media or the public. The Government should provide security to the Turkana. The lack of security has disrupted the lifestyles of Turkana South District residents who practice irrigation farming along Turkwel, Malmalte and Kerio rivers. Though they have never dependent on relief food in human history, insecurity has left them more vulnerable to hunger. Hundreds have fled their farms in fear of Pokot attacks and moved into ‘safe’ major urban areas in Turkana and outside.

Insecurity is not the only hunger story. The other part of the crisis is food relief distribution politics in Turkana Central District which has resonated since 2009 and it’s worsening. Why is there a stand-off in relief food distribution? Relief food is a money-spinner business in Turkana County involving local politicians, senior government officials, cereal staff and business community. Some of the transporters, cronies of the local politicians, corruptly collude and mastermind theft of relief food meant for starving people ending up in private warehouses across major towns in Turkana. The stolen relief food is sold and hoarded for buying votes during election campaigns. Given that election is a year away, politicians in counties like Turkana are busy hoarding relief food for their campaigns. The Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) should immediately investigate relief food theft scandals in Turkana. The Government through the Ministry of State for Special Programmes should support humanitarian agencies effort in distributing relief food to hungry Kenyans instead of redistributing risks.

While emergency relief is offered to this community, response governance and conflict of interest remains an issue in humanitarian assistance, which instead of reducing the suffering, increases it as a result of the infighting. In the absence of government cooperation, efforts and solution to reduce the suffering of communities affected by the drought, the lives of hundreds of thousands of the people across northern Kenya like the Turkana will be at risk.


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