While cyclical droughts continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of many in Kenya, a coordinated response from the Government of Kenya and international actors is building resilience to recurrent crises.

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The Government of Kenya’s Ending Drought Emergencies initiative, establishment of a National Drought Management Authority, and devolution of authorities and resources to county-level governments have provided the foundation for a country-led effort to build resilience to recurrent crises. Kenya, especially its arid and semi-arid northern regions, is vulnerable to frequent severe drought requiring costly humanitarian assistance. Since the 2011 drought, the Government of Kenya and international donors have coordinated efforts to increase the resilience of those living in drought-prone areas. Since then, evidence shows that the depth and cost of food insecurity during severe droughts have decreased, demonstrating an increase in resilience.

Complex Risk Environment

Cyclical droughts and increasing rainfall variability and rising temperatures threaten lives and livelihoods, and cost the Kenyan economy billions of dollars in losses in and beyond the livestock sector. Responding to these recurrent crises with life-saving humanitarian assistance is also extremely costly. Although agriculture is the country’s main economic driver, growth in the agriculture sector has stagnated in recent years, during which time the country has become hotter and drier. Households in the arid and semi-arid regions in northern Kenya are particularly vulnerable to recurrent drought and have suffered from conflict and a legacy of marginalization and lack of international investments.

Resilience Approach

Following the historic drought in 2011, the Government of Kenya, USAID, and other donors committed to making long-term investments to address the underlying causes of these recurrent crises and to respond earlier and more effectively when they do occur. The Government of Kenya launched and committed $1.6 billion to its Ending Drought Emergencies strategy, which was matched by $1.5 billion from other donors, including USAID.

Since 2011, a number of activities have likely contributed to greater resilience, such as forward-leaning drought cycle management; increased private sector investment; devolution of authority and resources to counties; the establishment of the cross-ministerial National Drought Management Authority; and a common programming framework that aligned investment from donors and the Government of Kenya.

Opportunities for Strengthening Resilience

Evidence suggests that Kenya was substantially more resilient in 2017 than it was in 2011, a period of time during which the country experienced several consecutive, severe droughts. A comparison of food insecurity and food assistance expenditures during the 2011 drought and the 2016/17 drought shows that although similar numbers of households experienced food insecurity, the depth and cost (in terms of emergency food assistance) of the 2016/17 drought was much less than would have been expected given the severity of the drought. There are a number of factors that complicate this comparison, however, and further research into the resilience of the agriculture sector in particular will be important, especially as Kenya becomes drier and hotter.

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