Drought-Stricken Kenyans Struggle For One Meal A Day

Published on 11 September 2009

Elizabeth Chepkumi with her daughter. The drought forced Chepkumi to work in a quarry to help feed her family.
Copyright: WFP/Gabrielle Menezes

In Kenya’s Rift Valley, crops have failed and people are lucky if they eat even one meal a day. Many now face a choice between migrating to urban slums in search of food and work or staying put and breaking stones to earn enough to survive.

NYARIGINU -- Lucy Gathigia Mahinda has lost her crops. The crippling drought that has swept across Kenya has withered her maize plants to weak yellow-green stalks and thin leaves. She and her seven children are now totally dependent on food assistance from WFP.

“There were two previous droughts, but this time it is really serious… We don’t know what to do. Even our cows have died because of lack of food and water. We are living on hope and faith, just one day at a time,” Gathigia Mahinda says.

Many people here in this Rift Valley village of Nyariginu are struggling to get even one meal a day. Gathigia Mahinda shares what food she has with her neighbours, who do not receive food assistance.

Millions affected

Their dire plight is reflected across this East African nation, where WFP plans to increase food assistance to reach a total of 3.8 million people by November – a sharp uptick from the 2.6 million Kenyans currently receiving WFP assistance and who were also affected by drought last year.

In Nyariginu, people are helping each other, but the community is struggling to survive. Many have sold their land and migrated to urban slums in search of work and food. The drought has also sparked cereal shortages that have almost doubled prices in many parts of Kenya.

Others residents have stayed put, earning money by breaking stones in a nearby quarry. Elizabeth Chepkumi joined her husband there when she was heavily pregnant. His meager salary was not enough to feed the family.

It is hard work. Toiling for about an hour and a half, Chepkumi fills a 20 litre can with broken stones. During pauses, she nurses her now four-month-old baby. For each can she fills, Chepkumi is paid five Kenyan shillings (US $0.07.)  A two kilogram bag of maize costs about 105 shillings.

Eating once a day

“We are eating just once a day,” Chepkumi says. “It’s just white maize meal mixed into porridge with a little water. I’m worried about the near future, because I have two young kids."

This is just the beginning of Kenya’s food crisis, but the drought has already ravaged the country. In parts of central Kenya, 50 percent of shallow wells, boreholes and other water sources have dried up. People walk up to 30 kilometres in search of water.

The next rains are not expected until mid-October. Even if they arrive on time, the damage has been done.

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about the author

Gabrielle Menezes

Public Information Officer for Kenya

Gabrielle Menezes joined WFP in 2008 and is currently a public information officer for the organization in Nairobi.