KenyA's Humanitarian Crisis
BY: Aaron Kim
During this seemingly interminable period of quarantine inflicted upon us by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not too difficult to get distracted from international crises by our personal concerns and complications. Hindrances to our social and academic lives include the inability to gather with friends and family, the arguably excessive precautions that must be taken when venturing outdoors, and the concerning lack of educational resources and available standardized testing facilities. These are things that may leave all of us wondering and worrying about our futures, and rightfully so.
However, it’s indispensable that we refocus at least some of our attention towards the various humanitarian emergencies that are ongoing around the globe, one of which is occurring in the East African country of Kenya. Known for its iconic savanna safaris and diverse biomes, the undeniably amazing features of this beautiful country may, unfortunately, overshadow the critical humanitarian needs of millions of its citizens. “The COVID-19 pandemic—which is occurring against a backdrop of increased humanitarian needs due to back-to-back drought, floods and a locust upsurge—will exacerbate existing vulnerabilities across Kenya, particularly for the urban poor, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.” A combination of natural catastrophes have led to a sharp decrease in crop productivity, livestock population, water supply, and an inflation in food prices. These lead, furthermore, to the exacerbation of the risks of widespread food insecurity, malnutrition, and disease outbreaks. If this crisis fails to quickly receive adequate attention and aid, disastrous consequences may very well ensue.
A lack of rainfall during the October to December 2018 “short rains” season and the delay of the March to May 2019 “long rains” season has inflicted a dry spell in Kenya (especially in the arid and semi-arid counties) which has driven displacement and caused mass food and water insecurity. The dry spell is responsible for drying up numerous open water sources, increasing average distances to and between water points and making it more difficult for many people and facilities to have access to a reliable source of water. Unfortunately, a lack of rainfall isn’t the country’s only problem involving precipitation. In May of this year, heavy rains have caused the Nzoia River to overflow, causing flooding and landslides. According to the Government’s National Disaster Operations Centre, “Flooding has been reported in more than three quarters of Kenya’s counties (36 out of 47), with landslides reported in the Rift Valley and the central and coastal regions,” and, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society, more than 233,000 people have been affected by the flooding, with over 116,000 being displaced. It really seems like Mother Nature is tormenting Kenya and other East African countries, and it truly is a privilege being able to learn about these disasters from the Internet and not from personal experience.
In case droughts and flooding weren’t enough to deteriorate crop productivity, devastate livestock populations, and displace hundreds of thousands of people, then there are also the desert locust infestations. Since summer of 2019, the Horn of Africa has been suffering from the worst locust infestation that it has seen in decades. “As of February 2020, an estimated 140,000 hectares of crops have been infested in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, and the situation continues to worsen.” In spring of this year, extensive rainfall enabled new swarms to mature and lay eggs, and this second wave of locusts is projected to be up to 20 times larger than the previous. The voracious diets of these large swarms of locusts and their ability to quickly consume vast amounts of crops “pose severe risks to food security and livelihoods in the affected countries,” and in Kenya, “experts are warning that 100% of summer crops could be destroyed.” In a country where the supply of food and potable water is already critically low, the amalgam of environmental hazards, combined with a severely limited availability of health services and facilities, could bring about ruinous consequences, including the deaths of thousands of people, young and old.
Although the gravity of the crisis in Kenya makes the situation seem hopeless and unrecoverable, substantial progress has been made in helping the affected. “The Government of Kenya is leading the response to the extended dry spell and has provided over Kshs. 1.3 billion (US$12.8 million) for food, nutrition and water response.” With the support of UNICEF, it’s reported that about 31,000 people in counties affected by cholera received “... access to safe water through promotion of household water treatment and storage.” Additionally, “[a] total of 10,482 severely malnourished children and 16,489 moderately malnourished children were admitted for treatment from January to February.” According to the United Nations Population Fund, services that were delivered to Kenya in 2019 include Dignity Kits, Family Planning, 31 mobile clinics, and 11 functional health facilities (that provided Emergency Obstetric Care (EmOC)), and these services benefited over 60,000 people.
Slowly but surely, people in Kenya who are in need are receiving aid and assistance through government and international support, but also through the help of volunteer programs, efforts, and donations, as well as the dissemination of awareness. Various websites provide a wide array of programs that you can sign up for if you’re willing to volunteer. Donations to humanitarian aid organizations like UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) go a long way in helping resolve a myriad of issues. Spreading information about crises like Kenya’s can motivate more people to take action. Right now, you may feel incapable of helping to solve an overwhelmingly large humanitarian problem. However, it’s important to know that any action, no matter how big or small, is necessary and appreciated, and will ultimately contribute to solving the problem.