by David Musyoka
NAIROBI, Feb. 10 (Xinhua) -- The Kenyan government on Friday declared the current drought affecting 23 arid and semi-arid counties and pockets of other areas a national disaster.
President Uhuru Kenyatta called on all stakeholders to support the government by upscaling drought mitigation programs as the severe drought has left over 2 million people in urgent need of food assistance.
"Support from our partners would complement government's efforts in mitigating the effects of drought," he said in a statement issued in Nairobi after being briefed on the situation on the ground by Cabinet Secretaries involved in drought management and food security.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have warned that Kenya is facing a severe drought and with it a rise in food insecurity. Current estimates show some 2.1 million people are food insecure.
FAO said poor rains in 2016 and drought in 2017 has led to a significant risk of drought conditions in 2017, threatening the food security of some of the country's most vulnerable people.
"Those most at risk are small-scale herders in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs), where livestock rearing can account for as much as 90 percent of employment and family income," FAO said.
According to the UN agency, the delayed onset and erratic nature of the current rains means critical pasture and water resources are not being replenished following already poor rains during the April to June 2016 rainy season.
Kenyatta also called on the local and international partners to come in and support the government's efforts to contain the situation which has not only affected human being and livestock but also the wild animals.
He said the government would fast track and upscale its mitigation programs to ensure the situation is properly contained.
He also gave a stern warning to all who are involved in food distribution that the government would take serious measures on those who would try to take advantage of the situation to enrich themselves, noting that all purchases of food and other requirements be done in a transparent and open manner and that all government agencies be involved to ensure Kenyans are not defrauded.
To stabilize the high prices of cereals, the government would allow maize importation by the licensed millers but would strictly monitor the situation to ensure it is done in a very transparent manner.
In its phase two of drought intervention covering the months of February to April, the government has allocated 110 million U.S. dollars to cater for intervention in various sectors.
National Treasury has already released the first tranche of 73 million dollars while the county governments have provided 20 million dollars.
The government intends to enhance the interventions including doubling of food rations and cash transfers among other measures.