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Kenya's Drought

October 07, 2009

You will have seen the numerous reports in the press about the drought which is affecting Kenya. According to the Kenya Meteorological Department this year's drought is the worst since 1996. It is taking a heavy toll on the people of Kenya, their livestock and of course the wildlife. This drought has particularly struck northern Kenya, where local residents judge it to be the worst drought in over 20 years.

Decades of destructive land use and unusually severe drought have combined to create a humanitarian crisis in the country. On September 8, the New York Times cited that the World Food Program estimates 4 million Kenyans – one tenth of the nation's total population – now urgently need food aid. In addition, conflicts have intensified in semi-arid northern Kenya where poor, mostly pastoralist communities are competing over diminishing pasture and water resources.

On the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, things don’t look as bad as other parts of the country. Because of our swamp and springs, there is still access to water. The food however, is scarce and we have started supplementing natural browse and pasture with Lucerne, and a mixture of protein, molasses and wheat bran for our wildlife. During dry times, it’s usually the rhinos who are the recipient of the wildlife feeding programme, but this year impalas, elephants, Grant’s gazelles, elands, waterbuck, warthogs, Grevy’s zebras, plains zebras, buffaloes, monkeys and giraffes are all dependent on this vital programme. Our mortality rate would have been a lot higher if this programme had not been put in place.

In the North however, wildlife is really suffering, particularly young animals. Most recently, over 10 elephant mortalities are being reported every week – all drought-related. Furthermore incidents of human/elephant conflict have increased markedly due to competition over dwindling water resources. The buffalo population in particular has been devastated with some conservancies losing all or most of their buffalo numbers.

In our surrounding communities, Lewa continues to assist its neighbours as much as possible. The Feeding Programme in the Lewa-Supported schools is on-going, providing vital source of nutrition to about 4,200 children. This is, at times, the only daily meal that these children will get. In the recent months we have also spent a lot of time and resources assisting our neighbours with water management and better irrigation techniques. Lewa is a source of water for the entire region, and is helping all surrounding communities by critically conserving springs which feed into rivers such as the Ewaso Nyiro. Our livestock programme, which allows communities to graze their cattle on Lewa, has also proved particularly important in this time of drought.

It is at times like this that the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy really comes into its own and that the true value of Lewa, as a catalyst for Conservation becomes apparent. Lewa, more than anything, has been highly innovative in developing a model that works to meet so many of Africa’s pressing needs. And Lewa is determined to see conservation make a difference to the lives of ordinary Kenyans in what would otherwise be impossible circumstances – high inflation, persistent drought, and extreme poverty. In order to fulfill this task, Lewa needs your continued support.

If you would like to make an emergency donation to support us in this time of drought, please contact elodie@lewa.org.