Someone left a comment, asking for an update on whether the drought conditions in Kenya are real or being exaggerated by the press. I am not particularly well qualified to comment on the situation (never stopped me before!), but at the moment it is pretty dire. Kenya is certainly going through some dark days.
I posted a bit about this last week - a run of dry years in Kenya (since 2003/4), combined with the knock on effect of election chaos at the end of 2007/jan 2008 is pretty catastrophic. The government has finally launched a food distribution campaign to worst hit areas (rather than the public and charity food aid programs). For instance, some schools have remained open during the usual August break, in order to continue feeding children.
A government program of subsidising fertilizer earlier this year has proved useless as the long rains basically failed. If El Nino rains do hit Kenya, starting from September they are forecast to be lighter than the 1997/98 rains, which is good news - as back then there was very destructive flooding, landslides etc. The likelihood of farmers being ready for a good, extended rainfall is in the hands of the government - farmers must be helped as they have become so impoverished due to election chaos and failed rains over previous years.
(nb. just saw on the local news that the El Nino rains in Kenya could be even more destructive that in 1997/8 because the landscape is now so degraded).
Runs of dry years have been a common phenomenon here, but apparently you used to have a wet year in every four, rather than in every 7. The destruction of forested areas in Kenya or water towers, such as the Mau Forest have no doubt contributed to the rains failing but the problem is reportedly part of a wider climate change/El Nino weather pattern one. Not that it's much comfort to the poor and starving in Kenya, but at least this latest very dry year has finally prompted politicians to sit up and take notice.
Hydro electric power, which Nairobi is overly dependant on, is now ineffective as there is no water in the dams. Currently power is being rationed for at least 3 days per week - city wide for householders and businesses alike. The 'jua kali' fundis (carpenters, welders, small businesses) who operate on the side of the road, are struggling badly along side major industries. Boreholes are running dry everywhere. Some are saying that Kenya will be completely generator dependant in the future - though I hope this is not true. The very worst hit area is in the north - but rain has failed all over Kenya - Rift Valley, Tsavo, Kericho. It seems to only be the coast that is less affected - it is raining there now.
From an on the ground point of view - the wildlife is suffering. A lady I met who works in tourism said that Samburu is currently littered with dead buffalo, elephant etc due to the drought. We visited Nairobi National park earlier this week. Cattle has been illegally herded inside the park for grazing. There are the carcases of dead animals lying around - same in Tsavo and Amboseli. In Amboseli the elephant are suffering badly - that park is usually swampy but they have had no rain since January.
The cost of vegetables and food has gone up dramatically due to the shortages. The amount of maize Kenya produces this year will fall way short of what is required as the main staple food (10 million fewer 90kg bags than usual). Kenya has not had a bumper maize crop since 2006 - due to inadequate and poorly distributed rainfall. http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/7f469b3194aa92517160a65dc0d49dc2.htm A Kenyan lady I met yesterday said,
'while we are praying for rain in Nairobi, those displaced people who are still living in camps are praying that it won't rain.' she also said that business people in Kenya feel forgotten by their government.
I hope that there will be a good rain - predicted (if El Nino rains occur) to run from September to January. The year on year lack of adequate rainfall has flashed up a lot of problems in the country - apparently Kenya is now listed among the top 5 most rainfall deprived countries in the world. The Kenyan government is currently appealing to other, developed countries for food aid (Japan has stepped up apparently). The current situation highlights the fact that due to poor management of resources, general disruption after the election, corruption, chaos - that sadly Kenya is still very much a third world/developing country. A Kenyan friend recently visited Malaysia - she could not believe they gained independence at roughly the same time as Kenya, as they are so much more advanced.
Perhaps if things are better managed - problems adequately addressed, with the arrival of the fibre optic cable etc. Kenya could move forward dramatically in the next few years and become the economic 'hub' that it should rightly be. Fingers crossed.