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Millions under threat as drought bites

"People are simply on their death beds." This was how the Livestock minister Muhammad Kuti described the effects of the ravaging drought in the country.

"This is a very ugly scene, a very disturbing scene that the country is facing," the minister added during a press briefing last week. Reports indicate that several people have already succumbed to the effects of starvation which has also killed thousands of livestock due to lack of water and pasture in Northern Kenya.

Parts of Rift Valley and Central region are also bearing the brunt of the disaster. The minister said Sh1.5 billion was needed to minimize losses in the affected communities who have yet to recover from recent droughts. "We need to implement contingency intervention measures, start an immediate livestock purchase off-take programme, acquire veterinary drugs for the migrating animals and a monitoring programme," said the minister.

The funds will also be used to provide water to the affected areas in order to prevent the crisis that was witnessed in 2009 where thousands of cattle died on their way to the Kenya Meat Commission slaughter houses in Athi River.

He said the country was experiencing adverse weather conditions which threaten more than 22 million livestock. On his part, Livestock assistant minister Aden Duale appealed to the crisis centre in the Prime Minister's office to respond to the plight of the people facing starvation. "We are asking the PM's crisis centre to respond to the need of the pastoral communities.

This involves provision of food to the people in the 14 affected counties as well as livestock feed for their animals," said the Dujis MP. The Kenya Red Cross secretary general Abbas Gullet said the effects are widespread and devastating and appealed to the government to declare the drought a national disaster in order to enable mobilization of resources to combat the situation.

Gullet said a nationwide and international appeal campaign to help raise funds to assist drought hit population will be launched soon. Among the most affected areas are Garissa, Ijara, Tana river, Taita Taveta and Kwale counties.

Marsabit, Isiolo, Wajir, Mandera and Samburu are also affected. The counties of Kitui, Makueni, Machakos, Kajiado and Narok could also be affected as they received low rainfall. Pastoralists who depend on cattle for their food and income have to drive their livestock hundreds of kilometres to seek pasture and water.

According to Kenya Red Cross Society spokesman Titus Mung'ou displacement of families migrating in search of water and pasture in northern Kenya has already been witnessed. Schools have closed down in many remote areas after residents left, while water shortages have forced health workers to close health centres in some areas.

In 2009, the government came under sharp criticism from players in the livestock industry for failing to prevent the death of thousands of livestock despite early warning reports released by the metrological department.

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