We work with the poorest people in Kenya: pastoralists living on a knife-edge, refugees from war-torn Somalia and children with slim life chances. We work across a range of programme areas – from refugees to emergencies to an innovative livelihoods project. But we have one overriding aim: to help Kenya dramatically cut the number of infant, child and maternal deaths.

The challenges

One of Africa’s most developed countries, Kenya is also one of the most unequal.

The places where we work — the drought-stricken and abandoned North East Province, the enormous Dadaab refugee camps and some of the country’s poorest communities — present huge challenges.

The greatest of these is tackling child and maternal deaths. While Kenya has made significant strides, the figures are still shocking:

  • 74 children of every 1,000 born in Kenya will die before their fifth birthday.
  • 70% of child deaths occur within the first year of life — 42% in the first month.
  • Kenya is also home to one of the world’s largest refugee camps, Dadaab, housing 280,000 Somali refugees.

In the North East Province, loss of land and drought in a harsh, unforgiving climate strips families of their livestock and creates an ongoing emergency.

“If the drought continues like this, I fear the death of members of my family,” said Abdullahi, a 14-year-old boy who saw his family’s livestock die in the 2009 drought, leaving them with nothing.

In 2011, failed rains resulted in severe drought across much of country. We’ve launched our emergency appeal for East Africa and responded in Kenya by:

  • providing an emergency supplementary and therapeutic feeding programme for the most malnourished children
  • ensuring local health facilities are fully stocked with the drugs, equipment and trained local staff they need to provide basic health services
  • providing vouchers for locally sourced milk and meat for to up to 40,000 people.

What we’ve achieved

We’ve reorganised our programme to respond to crises more quickly, and can call on emergency response staff to help us hit the ground running. Our emergency response to the drought in late 2009 and early 2010 was swift, coordinated and effective – saving thousands of lives.

And our flagship EC-funded project with pastoralists in the North East Province is pioneering a new way of delivering aid – boosting the local economy by giving families vouchers which they can use at local shops. This way, families have more food, and we help increase demand for locally produced food instead of relying on food aid purchased after a journey of 400km down unpaved roads.  

The first distribution of food aid vouchers took place in May 2010, helping 54,000 people. In our first study of the project’s impact, we found that, even at the height of the drought, people were eating more often, and better quality food, than families not in the project. The demand for meat was high, benefiting families selling livestock and traders.

In Dabaab camps, a similar voucher project funded by the French government meant that more than half of targeted children under one year old were getting a nutritious diet – in a place where malnutrition is rife

What’s urgent

Kenya’s children need their government to increase spending on health. They need more trained and equipped community healthworkers. They need an efficient drug supply. They need their communities to demand clean water. And they need citizens who say that their children shouldn’t die needlessly.

We’re calling on governments, community groups and ordinary Kenyans to make this happen.