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The hidden threat behind Kenya’s worsening drought

Kenya is suffering from a devastating drought. The government has declared it a national disaster, with the Red Cross estimating 2.7 million people are in need of food aid as a result of failed rains in October, and again last month.

But a lack of rainfall is not the only culprit behind the worsening water shortage.

Ambitious development plans

Kenya’s longest watercourse, the 1,000-kilometre-long Tana River, provides the country with 60 percent of its electricity and Nairobi with 80 percent of its drinking water.

But the river’s water availability per capita is only a fifth what it was 50 years ago. The Tana is being drained by the nation’s fast demographic growth and the government’s ambitious development plans.

The ruling Jubilee Party wants to cement Kenya’s middle-income status by 2030 and many of its flagship schemes rely heavily on the Tana – including a million acres of monocultures, a new port city in Lamu, and the construction of a 165-square-kilometre dam, the largest yet.

In southwestern Tana Delta County, where Elema lives, locals accuse the government of directing water to richer, more politically valuable regions like Nairobi, without any consideration for their livelihoods.

“The upstream developments are really hurting us,” said the 46-year-old cattle herder. “Now, even when it rains upcountry, no water makes it down here.”

See the full article on, a news agency specialised in reporting humanitarian crises.


You want to learn more about the conflict between Pokomo farmers and Orma herders in the Tana River Delta that many fear might be re-ignited by this year's drought? Check our ECC Factbook!