By The COAST Reporter
As the world joined in commemoration of this year’s women’s day achievements some months ago, a large number of women residing in the drought stricken areas of Kilifi County had little to celebrate.
Kilifi county is one of the arid and semi-arid zones in Kenya, where women bear the brunt of the impact of the ongoing drought.
Defying odds, not only are they in charge of supplying food for their families, but also they contribute to their household income through harvesting aloe vera or burning charcoal.
Bendera Salim, 60, and mother of eight, is one of the 2.8 million people affected by the on-going drought in the coast region. She wakes out her livelihood by harnessing aloe vera.
‘’This is my routine five, times a week,” says Bendera, a resident of Jila .
“I have to harvest aloe vera, extract the juice and boil it till it solidifies for sale to feed my family.
‘’On a good day, I get buyers instantly, but sometimes it may take a week or two as the market for this is not guaranteed, ’’ she reveals adding that a kilo of it earns Ksh 100, an equivalent of one US dollar.
For two years, the area has been without rains, a terrible occurrence as 90 percent of the people are dependent on agriculture.
“I have been a farmer all my life. I can hardly remember a day when I did not work on my family’s land. I have experienced difficult times, but never before have I seen a drought like this one,” she narrates.
“To survive one has to go an extra mile of breaking the barriers regardless of who the person is,” says another local, Dama Kombe, 60, pointing to her charcoal kiln.
Dama says she has been burning charcoal for the past two years.
‘’I sell 90 kg bags of charcoal at 400 shillings at Bamba market and it’s never enough, the rise of food prices is another problem we are grappling with right now ‘’.
Dama, who has never sat in a classroom in her life, has also been doing an extra mile of mentoring school girls on early pregnancies.
Power of woman
‘’I saw the need to step up the role of mentoring and empowering young girls when kilifi hit the headlines leading in teenage pregnancies. I realized that parents are not ready to talk on sex education with their children,” Dama says.
The drought has also led to the deaths of livestock due to lack of water and pasture in the area, yet livestock was their mainstay.
“Here in Kilifi we used to depend on our agriculture and sometimes when one season fails we turn back to our livestock for livelihood, but now we have to gather gravel and burn charcoal to sustain ourselves,” says Dama Kombe.
When drought worsened in the area two years ago, many girls had to face the prospect of getting married for their families to survive.
Kadzo Kahindi still has a few cattle which she has been taking care of ,but because of the drought that has made water the most sought after commodity in the area ,she walks for over 20 kilometers to find water for the livestock.
‘’I had 50 cows, but most died and I’m left with 21 which I’m hopeful will survive, this is all I have got’’.Kadzo says the deaths of her lvestocks has paralysed her economically since she depended on them to survive.
“We depended on livestock sales but now times are hard. Sometimes we sleep without a meal ,” Kadzo says.
Sleeping without dinner
“If we get it, fine, if we don’t, we will still sleep. Whenever we wake up, we do not anticipate any meal. On a good day, we have a single meal,” she adds.
Due to prevailing gender inequalities, women and girls tend to experience higher food insecurity and malnutrition. When food is scarce, they often get even less food than male members of the household.
Girls in this area have not also been left out, most times they are forced to skip classes, just to help their mothers in either burning charcoal or fetching water.
Kache is a 15 year old school girl in Jila village; she misses out on classes to get water for her siblings.
Kache lives with her mother, their father migrated to Galana Kulalu in Chakama, miles away from their home in search of job opportunities, and it has been one month now.
However, due to difficulties in finding stable work, he is unable to send remittances to his family.
“Being the first born daughter, sometimes I have to support my mother in finding water. I take water from Jerry Cans to school with me and on my way back I fill it up and bring back as much water as I can.
“With the drought my mother does not have time to get the water herself, because she needs to find food for us,“says devastated Kache.
With the drought that has made water being the most sought after commodity, scarcity compromises their hygiene as the little water available is prioritized for drinking and cooking.
At times girls lack water to bath when on their menstrual cycle which apart from the stigmatization it also poses a health reproductive risk.
The most –affected counties by drought are Turkana,Wajir,Mandera,Garisa,Marsabt,and Kilfi.
Other hard –hit counties are Baringo, Kitui, Isiolo,Tana River, Kwale, Kajiado, Narok, Lamu, Samburu,West Pokot,Laikipia,and Taita Taveta.
According to the National Drought Management Authority [NDMA] statistics released in December 2021, up to 2.8 million people are food insecure in the coastal region.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 42 percent of households in Kilifi report skipping days without food and the situation is expected to worsen since planting season has already started and there’s no signs of rains.
According to a recent report released in February 2022 by the ministry of environment and forestry, the coastal region will receive rains starting March.
” The coat region will as from March receive Minimal and few rainfall all the way to May’ ‘Reads some parts of the report.
“conomic empowerment of women would reduce their vulnerability during such droughts,” explains Agness Charo ,Gender Officer to the County Government of Kilifi. “The government and society in general needs to give women space to do something on their own and compliment their family’s income.”
In September 2021, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the current drought a national disaster, directing a multi-agency team drawn from the ministry of devolution and planning and treasury to draw measures to mitigate the drought.
Other steps the government has taken include rapid provision of animal feed and water, animal health programmes and timely purchase of animals for slaughter and distribution of food. However, the Kilifi residents still feel the pinch since rains are yet to start.
Women there can only hope that next year’s women day would be different with basics like water, food and school attendance well addressed.