Driven by climate change, the worst drought in decades has gripped Kenya killing livestock and creating a humanitarian crisis leading to civil strife as shepherding communities battle each other for the remaining scarce resources.
The worsening drought has significantly hampered crop production leaving nearly 2.4 million people in Arid and Semi-Arid (ASAL) regions struggling to put food on their tables each passing day.
This situation has led to increased cases of malnutrition in these regions with over 465,200 children under 5 years and over 93,300 pregnant or lactating mothers acutely malnourished.
Bamba village in Kilifi county serves as an example of hard-hit areas by the prolonged drought with 90% of the population living below the poverty line leaving children, pregnant and lactating women suffering from acute malnutrition.
The government took to the refuge of such vulnerable communities and has rolled out various mitigation programs to caution the families that are often hit by drought and report high rates of malnutrition in the country. One of such programs is the NICHE cash transfer program that is designed to fight against child malnutrition and violence against children by combining cash transfers and community empowerment.
The program dubbed NICHE (Nutrition improvement for children through cash and health education) targets vulnerable families who already receive cash transfers through the Governments National Safety Net Program and include pregnant or lactating women and children under two years of age.
NICHE is part of the Kenya Social Economic Inclusion Project (KSEIP) that would ensure that children aged two years and below as well as pregnant or lactating mothers receive a cash top up of 1000 per person.
Speaking in Naivasha during a media engagement workshop, the head of the department of Nutrition and Dietetics at MOH, Veronica Kerogo said that as a country we have a stunting growth rate of 26 per cent.”A stunt condition means a child is short for their age not only physically but also intellectually, “she added.
The Kenyan statistics on malnutrition of 2014 shows that stunting affects 1 out of 4 children under five years,this being attributed to inaccessibility of food and health services needed for proper child development.
Kerogo noted that the program is aimed at improving the health of children all the way from conception up until their second birthday, a period she termed as crucial to human development.
“We are focusing on children under 2 years with emphasis on lactating mothers because we are targeting 1000 days from conception to when the baby attains two years. If we fail to intervene between this period after two years a child suffering from malnutrition renders the condition permanent,” said Kerogo.
NICHE cash program has been rolled out across five countries that have reported severe cases of malnutrition by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, in collaboration with the ministry of health, National Drought Management Authority with technical assistance from UNICEF Kenya, working together with the county governments of Kitui, Kilifi, Marsabit, Turkana and West Pokot.
The program started in 2019 seeking to reach 23,500 poor families in 5 years to improve nutrition, protect children and reduce poverty through the provision of cash top ups which are known to effectively alleviate poverty by allowing parents to decide what their children need most such as food, medicine or clothes.
Undernutrition has a large impact on the labor and economic productivity of our country as people in the working population who suffered from stunting in their childhood are less productive than those who were not stunted.
Over the last ten years the government has strived to reduce the cases of malnutrition from 35 per cent in 2008-09 to 26 per cent in 2014.Wasting (where children are too thin for their height) has reduced from 7% to 4%over the same period but despite this promising outlook, regional disparities in the 5 counties still persist.