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Reducing Multiple Deprivations in Arid Counties in Kenya

Kenya has 9 arid counties out of the 47 counties. These are Garissa, Mandera, Isiolo, Marsabit, Baringo, Turkana, Tana River, Samburu and Wajir. The arid counties are characterized by severe living conditions, with little annual rainfall of between 150 and 550 millimeters and high temperatures. Extreme weather patterns have had devastating impact on the livelihoods of the communities and the environment. The counties, however, have a higher potential for growth and economic development, including strategic location, water resources, livestock development, irrigation agriculture, renewable energy, mineral richness, infrastructure projects (LAPSSET corridor), trade, and tourism are just a few of the potentials.

Policy Problem – Incidence of Deprivation in Arid Counties

Multidimensional poverty remains high in these counties, with an average of 76.90 per cent while monetary poverty is at 64.46 per cent [1]. This indicates that the communities in the arid counties are struggling with access to basic needs such as health, water, sanitation, nutrition, and housing. The poverty rates are significantly above the national multidimensional and monetary poverty rates (53% and 36%, respectively) as reported in Figure 1. When compared to other regions of Kenya, these counties have the highest rates of poverty as indicated in Figure 2.

Figure 1: Multidimensional and monetary poverty across the arid counties in comparison to the overall poverty rate

Data source: Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (2020), Comprehensive Poverty Analysis Report

Figure 2: Multidimensional and monetary poverty rates across the 47 counties in Kenya in comparison to the overall poverty rate

Data source: Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (2020), Comprehensive Poverty Analysis Report

In the arid counties, deprivation cuts across various dimensions, including nutrition, health, water, housing and sanitation as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Comparison between deprivations across the country and arid counties average across various deprivations

Data source: Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (2020), Comprehensive Poverty Analysis Report

The average nutrition deprivation across all the age groups is 66.05 per cent against a national average of 47.58 per cent. In Kenya, 2 million children under the age of five, or more than 25 per cent of all children, suffer stunted growth[2]. In addition, 4 per cent of children are wasted and 11 per cent of them are underweight. The 9 arid counties have a prevalence of stunting that is more than 30 per cent. Wasting varies from 1 per cent in some parts of Kenya to over 20 per cent in arid counties. Disease and poor diets, particularly between 6 and 23 months, are major contributors to childhood undernutrition. Food insecurity, inadequate care methods, and negative social norms are to blame for this.

The arid counties have low access to improved sources of water compared to the national access level. Water deprivation, on average, is 48.72 per cent compared to the national average of 29.96 per cent. Those with access to improved water sources (piped, tube well/ boreholes with pump, protected well, protected spring, rainwater collection and bottled water) are 6.61 per cent compared to the national average of9.08 per cent.

Sanitation services (flush to a piped sewer system, flush to a septic tank, flush to pit latrine, ventilated improved pit latrine, pit latrine with slab, and composting toilet) on average are lower across the arid counties (7.11%) compared to the national average of 10.87 per cent. The deprivation in sanitation for the arid counties is 58.24 per cent against a national average of 40.33 per cent.

The housing deprivation in the arid counties is, on average, 82.38 per cent against the national average of 61.94 per cent. In the arid areas of Kenya, many people do not have permanent houses (more than 50%) because they are pastoralists who move from one region to another. In Kenya, however, majority of households (46%) reside in homes with cement floors and 53 per cent sleep in a single room. The most common flooring in most rural parts of Kenya is earth or sand (43%). In arid areas, people live in crowded houses, which increases the risk of contracting diseases such as acute respiratory, which affects mostly the elderly and children.

Health deprivation in arid counties is estimated at 15.01 per cent against the national average of 10.30 per cent. In the arid counties, the distribution of health care professionals is relatively low ((doctors at 2%, nurses at 2%, and clinical officers at 5%). For example, in Mandera County, it is estimated that 6 per cent of the workforce serves 22 per cent of the population. The main causes of lack of access to health services in arid areas are due to inadequate infrastructure, hospitals and various medical facilities. Most locals seeking health services are forced to walk for hours in search of medical attention.

Table 1: Deprivations comparisons across different age groups and counties

Age CategoryDimensionArid (%)Semi-Arid (%)Others (%)
under 5Nutrition75.2954.3948.41
5 to 17Nutrition67.5750.0846.05
Above 60Nutrition68.8750.8549.81

Data source: Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (2020), Comprehensive Poverty Analysis Report

Across all dimensions, the arid counties have a higher deprivation than the other counties. Nutrition is high in the under-five category, which implies they have limited availability, accessibility and utilization of food and healthcare services since they are under the care of their parents. Health deprivation is high in the under-five category because of the distance to access a health facility, hence the parents prefer to stay at home. Water, sanitation and housing are also high for the under-five category because they are under the care of their parents. It also implies the parents have a problem accessing the same services.

Gaps and Emerging Issues

Infrastructure is one of the most critical aspects of economic growth, since it facilitates the delivery of public goods and services to the citizens, including government offices, markets, health centres, and schools, among others. The essential infrastructure includes access to work, transport affordability, housing quality, internet connectivity, schools’ ICT connectivity, mobile money subscription and access to electricity. The level of these essential infrastructure is relatively low compared to other counties. For instance, Wajir scored an average of 0.34, Baringo 0.57, Garissa 0.47, Marsabit 0.4), Mandera 0.38, Samburu 0.47 and Isiolo 0.50 [3]. The major areas of concern as far as essential infrastructure is concerned include low internet connectivity, limited access to electricity by households, low housing quality, and low road quality or low investment in the road sector.

Arid counties receive their revenue allocations from the Controller of Budget (COB). The allocations comprise of equitable share and conditional grants. The formula by the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) allocates 14 per cent of total revenue to counties based on poverty index, which has seen arid counties benefit more from the allocation formula. Across all the counties, the absorption rate for recurrent expenditure for the financial years 2018/19 to 2020/21 has been consistently over 70 per cent while the absorption rate for development expenditure has been as low as 27 per cent. In general, the counties have allocated more budget for recurrent spending compared to development spending.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection in 2018, delivering on social protection programme, effectively delivered six cash transfer cycles to 97,661 Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) households in Mandera, Turkana, Wajir and Marsabit, totalling Ksh 3.3 billion[4]. The counties were selected because they were the most hit by hunger compared to the other arid counties. The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) distributed regular cash transfers to 100,366 households during the 2020/21. County Governments and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have also undertaken social protection programmes in terms of cash transfers and food distribution in the arid counties. The Kenya Livestock Insurance Scheme Programme (KLIP) was introduced to cushion pastoralists in cases of drought. In 2015, it covered Wajir and Turkana counties protecting livestock owned by 5000 households. For example, as of 2021, more than 275 pastoralists in Wajir County had received insurance payments.

The Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project is aimed at increasing agricultural productivity and building resilience to climate change risks in arid areas and providing an immediate and effective response in the event of an eligible crisis or emergency. The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) uses drought monitoring and early warning systems, food security assessment reports, educating and creating awareness among farmers, integrated water resource management, and promoting sustainable farming practices as measures to curb the adverse effects of drought in arid areas. County governments have distributed relief food to the affected households, livestock vaccination to prevent diseases prevalent during droughts. All the 9 counties have also adopted web-based drought early warning systems. Emergency scale up was provided to 16,951 households in 2020/21 financial year to cushion the residents from drought related losses.

The arid counties receive conditional grants from the exchequer and development partners each financial year. For instance, in 2020/21 financial year, conditional grants were released for Garissa (Ksh 1.37 billion), Mandera (Ksh 1.35 billion), Wajir (Ksh 1.03 billion), Isiolo (Ksh 512.68 million), Mandera (Ksh 1.35 billion), Marsabit (Ksh 911.05 million), Baringo (Ksh 970.88 million), Turkana (Ksh 1.71 billion) and Samburu (Ksh 508.39 million). The grants were meant for leasing of medical equipment, road maintenance fuel levy, rehabilitation of village polytechnics, and agricultural sector development support, among other spending. These conditional grants, however, may not be fully directly channeled to the fight against multidimensional poverty because they are disbursed to particular vote heads.

Conclusion and Way Forward

An overwhelming majority of arid residents are both income poor and multidimensionally poor. The Constitution of Kenya 2010 brought devolution that has clearly highlighted the existing geographical inequalities across the country, and the national government has developed various measures to address this inequality. Social protection initiatives such as cash transfers, hunger safety net programme and emergency scale up during drought, among others, for instance, still just reach a portion of poor households. This calls for a wider scope for a renewed emphasis on preventing descent into poverty. If well managed, devolution seems to offer a new platform on which vulnerable groups can securely develop their resources and expand their opportunities to increase their voice and agency.  To address poverty in the arid areas, the following areas need to be given priority:

  • The counties in collaboration with government agencies and other stakeholders need to strengthen the registry of beneficiaries currently benefiting from social protection, such as hunger safety net programme. The registry will help target households and individuals with concurrent deprivations so that social protection programmes can reach those who need them most, and progress monitored by the county to ensure they are reached.
  • The counties also need to fast-track access to water through the development of boreholes, and solarize existing boreholes since solar energy is quite abundant in these regions.
  • The counties could focus on inclusive economic growth in reducing poverty. Because agriculture is the dominant activity in the arid counties, efforts to reduce poverty should be directed towards increasing agricultural production and productivity. Therefore, there is need to promote adoption of high-yielding crop varieties and the use of complementary inputs. Technological improvements in land use, such as drip irrigation and use of post-harvesting measures that minimize loss of agricultural production, could be encouraged in the arid counties.
  • Non-farm livelihoods, in conjunction with farm activities, can provide pathways for economic growth and poverty alleviation in the arid counties and improve their livelihoods.
  • Efficient marketing systems play a pivotal role in enabling the poor to increase their production because they permit the delivery of products to markets at competitive prices that results in increased income.

[1] Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) (2020). Kenya Comprehensive Poverty Analysis; Children, Youths and Women in Focus. Nairobi: Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

[2] Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) (2014). Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

[3] County Business Environment for Micro and Small Enterprises in Kenya. Special Paper No 27 of 2019. KIPPRA, Nairobi.

[4] National Social Protection Secretariat (2020). Kenya Social Protection Sector Annual Report 2018/19. Nairobi: Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.

Authors: Mercy Kalondu Peter, Young Professional, Strategy and Planning Department

Joash Odhiambo Okeyo, Young Professional, Strategy and Planning Department

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