Working together to anticipate drought in Kenya

Joint development of Early Action Protocol for drought in Kenya

Disasters and development are inherently linked. Disasters can wipe out decades of hard-fought poverty reduction and development gains of communities. Climate change is aggravating this. In addition, disasters disproportionally affect the poor: low levels of development make the population more exposed and vulnerable to disasters.

Until recently, many predictable extreme weather events such as floods and drought have resulted in disasters and suffering by these poor communities. In the past 5 years the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) together with key stakeholders has worked on reducing or even avoiding these impacts.

Weather forecasts are used to inform communities in time about early actions that can be taken by themselves and by relevant organizations before an upcoming hazard reaches them. This potentially reduces risks for vulnerable communities and saves money and time for humanitarian response. KRCS has co-developed an Early Action Protocol (EAP) to help communities fight the impact of climate change and be better prepared for disasters like floods and droughts, with a great variety of stakeholders both national and international.

The Netherlands Red Cross presents a personal reflection given by some of the key stakeholders involved on how they experienced the process of the EAP development. The stakeholders that participated represent the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), International Center for Humanitarian Affairs (ICHA), World Food Programme (WFP), Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Regional Center For Mapping Of Resources For Development (RCMRD), and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center (RCCC). The stakeholders have reflected on memories, moments or situations throughout the process of jointly developing the EAP.

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What types of risks are posed by drought?

I grew up in a semi-arid region, drought would manifest itself as very dry conditions and extreme temperatures and also drying water pans. We would see the impact of this dryness on vegetation. My mother is a farmer and during dry spells we would see crops starting to wither and die, food prices going up and you would start to experience the impacts of extreme dry periods. This would impact how much food you would have access to and how much water you could use, which would need to be minimized.

"The highest incidence of drought that we have experienced is actually still ongoing."

No one on earth can live without water. We lack access to water, the impact of drought is now becoming unbearable”, a statement given by one of Mandera residents in April 2022. IARP has contributed to building drought resilience in vulnerable communities. With 80% of Kenyan land being arid and semi-arid, drought continues and will always be a major humanitarian disaster in the country. However, they say a million miles’ journey starts with a step. IARP has been one of these steps in building disaster resilience to the communities. However, there are more steps ahead to reach drought resilience which calls for more actions even after the project ends.

"Drought occurrence was not so frequent or reaching so far as it is at the moment."

Who are the people we try to protect from drought?

Droughts aggravate suffering. What we have seen in the recent past, droughts have occured in close succession with other climate driven disasters such as floods and cascading impacts relating to that, like conflicts. We have seen people in need of more humanitarian aid, so that they could resume their normal social economic well being.

"The primary impacts of drought which are water scarcity, loss of pasture and reduced crop yields, mostly result in other secondary impact."

Kenya is a low income level country characterized by unemployment, poverty, pandemic and conflicts. In the event of climate risks, which happen more frequently, these underlying issues are aggravated resulting in greater impacts among the affected communities. Climate risks in Kenya are cyclic and mostly affect the poor who lack the coping capacity. Additionally, in the recent past the frequency of these events have increased over time leaving the communities with little time to recover from previous disasters which has resulted in increased poverty levels, joblessness and conflicts resulting in chronic vulnerabilities, among the affected communities.

"Drought and the impact of climate change are exacerbating factors to existing issues."

"It was sad to realize how much drought affects people who suffer from non-communicable diseases."

How was alignment reached between all stakeholders within anticipatory action in Kenya?

"We clearly saw the contribution of each institution and how critical it was to coordinate well."

"We realized when everyone knows their role it will be possible to achieve our objectives."

We prioritized drought impacts in Kenya through Perways Ranking. The challenge was that the TWG members could not agree on the final scores, because the differences between high and low scores was too high, because the severity is different per region and per livelihood. The suggestion was made to prioritize impacts that can be forecasted and the other impacts will follow as secondary impacts. From this discussion the TWG members agreed that water scarcity, lack of pasture and loss of crop yields are the primary impacts that can be forecasted. The argument was that if you address these primary impacts with early actions, you can avoid secondary impacts like malnutrition, resource-based conflicts, outbreak of diseases and livestock deaths.

"Then we decided to categorize the impacts according to primary impacts in terms of the immediate things you see when there is drought."

What is the value of combining modern, local and traditional knowledge to predict droughts?

This has potential to increase community awareness, but also for communities to trust scientific information. When a drought is announced through open communication channels the local communities start to compare their traditional knowledge, which is informed by what they see on the ground, to the scientific information that we recently passed to them.

"Different communities in Kenya have different ways of predicting droughts."

"The culture of anticipation and forecasting is already there thanks to the traditional forecasting system they have in place."

Traditional knowledge has been offering the most trusted indications of upcoming drought, this has been very much localized. What we see in scientific information is how well we can replicate this kind of user specific needed information. We are bringing together what the scientific information tells us and we are listening to what the communities have to say, so that before we issue a forecast we are able to mirror the two tools and put them together in one consideration and see what are the useful elements that can be borrowed from both.

It would take a deep investigation to understand the link that may exist between traditional knowledge and scientific forecasting. We should start looking at the signs that the traditional knowledge is using to anticipate a drought and these may be related to weather and climate patterns and maybe from there it would be possible to have a potential link with scientific forecasting.

"In most cases traditional forecasts align with scientific forecasts."

What is the first thing you do when you know a drought is coming?

"If we already are seeing the impacts of droughts and only then we recognize the indicators, then there is not much you can do…"

Implementing early actions is a task that cannot be for one individual. It should involve several stakeholders, I am a stakeholder who provides early warning information. So my role is to provide scientific information that is credible and point out areas that have an increased likelihood of having drought. The scientific and humanitarian communities who can take this information to act upon it and mitigate the impact this will have on the livelihoods and lives of people.

The first thing to do when there are clear indicators of a drought, is a risk analysis and an assessment of the areas that will potentially be affected and expose the vulnerable people. From there we will make decisions on how to go about the selection of early actions and doing the activation process of the EAPs.

"The first thing I would do when I am certain drought will take place, I would invest in issuing early warnings."

What are concerns going forward?

"One of the concerns we worried about were the institutional reputation and trust amongst the communities."

Other aspects apart from major loss of lives and livelihoods, and outbreaks of diseases for both livestock and people, and the destruction of critical services. We are worried that the stakeholders and we, ourselves, will not be able to act fast enough following the protocol to save the lives before the impacts arrive.

"In a perfect scenario you would hope that institutions who are tasked with saving lives, they would act on early warning information."

"We have early warning and early actions, but we do not have an institution to push this agenda - that is a legit worry."

What is the added value of the developed early actions protocol?

"Now the people realize that it is better to act early or even before the disaster happens."

With or without information people still make decisions. The EAP comes in and tries to minimize the costs for those decisions that are based on incorrect or no information at all, so the EAPs help for sure. Thanks to the EAPs action and stakeholders become more streamlined and coordinated in an anticipatory response. The formalization of EWEA increases the acceptance across the board, that increased acceptance in having more people coming to support the initiative, and people will find it more reliable and credible, believing information coming from these agencies.

"Coordination during response is clearly outlined in the EAP, which makes the response really really easy."

Artwork by Kyra Sacks

Next to Early Action Protocols for floods, the IARP programme also supports the development of Early Action Protocols for droughts in Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.

The IARP programme is supported by the IKEA Foundation

IKEA FoundationKenya Red Cross