Two years of lower than normal rains followed by a complete lack of any rain in certain East African areas has resulted in the most serious drought in a century.
Yesterday, the Kenyan cabinet in a special session mobilized its army to assist the police and civil departments with distribution of food and water. Areas north of the equator (about 40 miles north of Nairobi), including the great lakes and east from them, represent a square of devastation the likes of which we haven’t seen in a century.
The World Health Organization estimates that a third of Kenya’s 34 million people are now without enough food. The Kenyan agricultural ministry has announced that the annual grain harvest will fall short of the country’s needs by two-thirds. (Last year, Kenya exported grain.)
For tourists, it can be heart breaking for those still visiting most of Kenya’s game parks. In fact, the only game park which seems to be relatively OK is Kenya’s best park, the Maasai Mara. There is still a bit of water in the Mara River, but more importantly, there had been good rains through last week, providing the large herds of animals with grass fodder.
As I write this, though, there has not been a drop of rain in the Mara for a week. This is unusual, as the Mara is normally pretty wet right through September. But for the time being, the Mara looks OK.
And all the game parks south of the Mara, which include all of Tanzania’s parks, are also OK. They aren’t normal, as they, too, have suffered from two years of lower than normal rains, but the rain didn’t turn off completely on them as it did over north and eastern Kenya.
There have even been reports of sprinkles of rain over the southern Serengeti, not unheard of but not normal for this normally dry time. Lakes Ndutu, Masek, Eyasi and Manyara, however, are almost bone dry. The Grumeti River is dry. Only the Balaganjwe is still flowing.
The greatest tragedy is not for tourists, though, but for the local population. The Kenyan agricultural ministry estimates that already half of the hoofed stock in the country is dead. In more remote areas like Samburu and Meru, this has resulted in gun battles between clans warring over the last stock that exists. The military has actually had to intervene, in one notable case, blasting apart two warring clans on the bridge over the Ewaso Nyiro River going to Samburu.
Most of Kenya is now under a water rationing program. In many populated areas, two days of every week have no public water service.