With the rains now just behind us it is important that we take stock of whether or not different regions in the country have received below or above of what is considered normal. Over the years, many areas are especially affected by low rainfall and the people living there are facing widespread food insecurity. While the rains have stopped in the highlands, they are about to begin in the lowlands. Observing the way people make a living in the lowlands, mainly by keeping livestock and growing some crops, I can’t help but realise that things are changing, and that the pastoralists’ way of life is affected by external factors that present themselves at an exponential rate. There are developments like the expansion of the roads network and the extension of the mobile telephone network, which is very helpful in marketing of livestock, the main asset of the pastoralists. I also notice the local effects of global climate changes, which present themselves in the form more frequent periods of drought as well as floods. We need to monitor here also whether the rains begin in time or late and whether enough rain will fall to sufficiently water the rangelands.
The actual situation is indeed monitored by the authorities, donor and development organizations alike, resulting in early warning reports, with the Government coordinating assistance to avert looming crises.
Many development and donor agencies apply the concept of Drought Cycle Management and Disaster Risk Reduction in their strategies and approaches. The concept of Drought Cycle Management helps people – and the governments and development agencies that serve them – to plan for drought. It aims at strengthening people’s livelihoods throughout the drought cycle, which is divided into four stages, i.e. normal, alert, emergency and recovery, although in reality it is difficult to strictly separate them. More often than not there are overlaps. The principle though remains to implement activities that match the realities on the ground, i.e. doing the right things at the right time. So, what are some of the things that can be done following the Drought Cycle Management concept? Here follow some suggestions:
In the ALERT phase, surface water pans gradually dry up and the pastoralists will adjust their watering schedule for their herds. Instead of once a day, they lead their animals to water every 2-3 days. Drinking for families also gets scarce. It is important to realise that communities have their own coping strategies as described here and external interventions should build on these and not undermine them. Carrying out a needs assessment is key followed possibly by protection of strategic wells and springs to increase efficiency. The community will plan for and manage the use of water themselves. Existing boreholes will require maintenance and rehabilitation, so equipment, spare parts and fuel must be made available. Have people trained to carry out repairs quickly.
Malnutrition rates increase steadily during the ALERT phase, making people and especially children more vulnerable to disease. The price of grain will go up while the selling price of the animals will go down. Starvation will begin to set in. Communities will ration their food and grain reserves will be stocked. Introducing food subsidies and providing food on credit are options here, eventually followed by food aid. This is also the moment for de-stocking, which is the selling or slaughtering of animals that will not be able to withstand a drought. If this is done early enough in the ALERT stage, the animals will still fetch a fair price. The cash can be used to buy grain or will be saved for re-stocking later. More importantly, the meat of the slaughtered animals will be a source of protein for those suffering from malnutrition. Keeping the animals during this stage will only be turning assets into liabilities as the animals will lose their value rapidly both in terms of cash and as a source of food. The stronger animals and breeding stock will be kept while providing them with supplementary feed. The production and preservation of fodder is therefore an essential preventive activity. Vaccination and de-worming is essential to keep a healthy breeding stock.
As mentioned above, people will gradually show signs of malnutrition and some die as is the case already now. Water gets scarcer, and people start rationing the amount they use. Hygiene is becoming difficult without water so diseases such as diarrhoea spread. Health interventions during the ALERT phase include health education, support to community health services, vaccinations, and arranging for adequate supplies and equipment. Meanwhile, arranging for continued water and supplementary food in schools will enable children to continue their education.
The above suggestions are only a few and more can and needs to be done. It is important however that action is taken urgently and effectively and in a coordinated fashion. We need to do the right thing and we need to do it now before it will be too late.