“My life has stabilized significantly since the cash support activity began. I have paid my debts and I am able to buy food and water form my family,” says Roba Wario (28) who is one of the beneficiaries of emergency cash transfer to vulnerable and drought-affected communities of Marsabit County of Kenya.
Roba is a mother of three children. She was born in Bubisa Ward of Marsabit County, this is where she still lives. She does not have any formal job. Her children need food but she can only afford one meal a day for them. She has received a cash allocation of 3,000 Shillings (equivalent of about 30 US Dollars). “Without the cash support, we would be sleeping hungry,” she says. On this day, she has bought maize flour at 70 shillings (0.7 US dollar) and pasta at 70 shillings. She proceeded to prepare ugali, a local delicacy made from maize flour mixed with boiling water and molded into a paste.
Her husband Jillo has travelled to Maikona, some 100km from Bubisa where she lives with her family. He has taken the family’s remaining 5 camels in search of better pasture. Chances are slim that he has found any pasture, because from PACIDA’s field monitoring there is no more pasture left anywhere in North Horr Sub County of Marsabit. Basically, livestock such as camels, goats and sheep are surviving on body fat reserves, reaching tall trees for leaves for those that have height and nibbling on dry matter lying on the ground.
“The drought is very harsh. Livestock is dwindling, water sources are few, shallow wells have all dried up long ago and boreholes are producing reducing quantities of water,” she says.
Roba keeps in touch with husband Jillo through mobile phone. The money received through the cash project has helped her afford some airtime cards. “We talk in the afternoon but not for long because the airtime is expensive. We only limit our discussion to the most critical matters, survival matters,” she says. Usually an airtime of 100 Shillings can be exhausted on a phone call after 20 minutes, and sometimes the connection is so poor that they cannot hear each other and have to speak loudly or repeat themselves.
During their conversations, Jillo informs her that he has sold the healthier ones to get some money for food and to pay the child’s school fees. The remaining goats are too thin and nobody is willing to buy them. There is a shallow well in Maikona that is still producing water and all the animals have converged there. Other herders have migrated further north to Lalesa and Shur. People are surviving from hand to mouth.
“If the drought persists, I will say a prayer to God to keep my children alive. I will do anything to protect my children to survive the drought,” says Roba.
How has the process of receiving money been?
“The advantage with this process is that when the money is sent it comes directly to our mobile phones, there are no intermediaries or agents who transact on our behalf. You can go to the M-Pesa shop and withdraw your money directly. It is transparent and straight-forward, even the old women understand what is going on,” she says.
“The support should continue at least until the end of the jilal (drought), the process also needs to consider those without mobile phones and just provide direct cash without Mpesa option. Any other means of helping our people to overcome the drought is highly appreciated,” she says.
She fears that in future, droughts will likely become more frequent and a real threat to survival in the county. She narrated about a time when the drought occurred around 2006 and 2007. At that time she was an unmarried girl. But since getting married she says the 2019 drought is proving to be extremely harsh, because it comes straight on the heels of the 2017 drought that claimed thousands of livestock and it was reported that some people also died. “We have not recovered yet, now another cycle of drought is upon us. Without this kind of support people would die,” she says.
What can be done?
Roba believes that there is a need for the government to boost destocking and support savings schemes and drought insurance initiatives. “The county and national government needs to be more proactive and genuine in drought response. Accepting that people are facing such a situation is the first step towards finding solutions. Unfortunately there is still much denial especially from national government point of view,” she says.
“During the community mobilization exercise, we were involved in meetings and some women groups expressed the need for animals to be sold in time so that it is easier to negotiate for better income. But some of the men are resistant and opposed to such ideas. They wait until it is too late to sell livestock. The men are very strongly attached to their animals and their pride, that is proving to be a challenge in managing such disasters,” she explains.
“For example, in Dukana Ward the normal price of sheep is 3,000 shillings but due to the drought the sheep are going for 1,700 shillings. That is a whooping loss of 1,300 shillings. For a goat the normal price is 5,000 shillings but now it is 2,000 shillings, leading to a loss margin of 3,000 shillings. If you multiply the loss with say 10 livestock sold it becomes increasingly substantial,” she says. The loss becomes clearer when the little money gets finished and the household ends up with no livestock in the compound yet they have exhausted all their money on just a few supplies.
Partnering across several projects with Concern Worldwide, Caritas Germany, Oxfam, ALDEF and Christian Aid, PACIDA is involved in emergency cash disbursement activities in the four sub-counties of Marsabit reaching hundreds of households from pastoralist communities whose stocks have dwindled due to drought.