The rising sun casts a dawn with melodic bird songs, synchronised to a very light, almost quiet rustling of drying acacia leaves. It brings with it a flurry of early morning activities at Eiti Village in Dallalekutuk, on the vast plains of Kajiado. Kimani Sironka’s house sits on a shrubby fenced land overlooking the Kajiado-Imaroro Road. He is surrounded by his wife Anne Kimani and three of his children as they softly converse while taking their breakfast. Their eyes, empty like a void and puzzling like a maze, you look directly to their face and you get sunken into their sadness.

Kimani Sironka who lost 50 cows to the drought that has ravaged Kajiado County for 3 years.
Kimani Sironka lost 50 cows to the drought that has ravaged Kajiado County for 3 years. Photo: Nancy Oseur.

Kimani, a pastoralist, represents thousands of herders who have lost their livestock to persistent drought that has affected many regions in Kenya. “I owned about 50 head of cattle and 100 goats before the drought started three years ago, they are all dead,” Kimani said. According to data from the State Department of Livestock, 2.6 million cattle have died across 23 Arid and Semi-Arid Land (ASAL) counties in Kenya. For Kimani, his cow pen stands empty.

Kimani’s empty cow pen.
Kimani’s empty cow pen after all his cows died from lack of pasture and water. Photo: Thomas Mukhwana/Africa Uncensored.

 Kimani traded his livestock for a living but now has to seek paid labour to make ends meet, “It pains me because I was planning to sell the cows to pay school fees for my children, I now have to look for a job elsewhere ” says Kimani.

Pain, losses, and despair.

“You watch as your cows die,” Kimani explained, “You cannot save them because there is no pasture.” For him, not only did he lose all his cattle but the construction of his dream house also stalled. Kimani had planned to save proceeds from the sale of his cows and invest into his new construction project. “We had planned to move into this one with our family once it was complete,” Anne Kimani said, pointing at the unfinished structure. For now,it’s a dream postponed. They will have to seek refuge in their old mud house much longer.

The house Kimani and his family are currently living in as a result of the drought.
The house Kimani and his family are currently living in as a result of the drought. Image courtesy of Nancy Oseur.


Drought & death

Kilometres away from Kimani’s home, a similar cloud of despair hangs in Reverend Solomon Kinoya’s home. His homestead is a field with livestock carcasses. The putrid flesh, hooves, and horns of more than 40 cows that were once part of his herd of 106 cows told a story of despair. “They fell one by one and I’m now left with 5. It has become the norm where everyone gets used to it.” said Kinoya.

Carcasses of Solomon's cows that died due to the prolonged drought.
Carcasses of Solomon’s cows that died due to the prolonged drought in Kajiado County. Photo: Thomas Mukhwana/Africa Uncensored.

Images of decomposing carcasses and skeletons of animals are common in many homesteads around Kajiado County where the  unprecedented drought hit hard. Although the rain has fallen and even flooded in other parts of Kajiado Central, Solomon and Kimani in Eiti Village have only received light showers once- the earth was still desiccated.

Decomposing carcasses of 40 cows belonging to Solomon that died recently.
Decomposing carcasses of 40 cows belonging to Solomon that died recently. Image by Thomas Mukhwana/Africa Uncensored.

The World Meteorological Organization termed the drought as the ‘longest drought to hit the Greater Horn of Africa in 40 years’. As of the end of February, Kajiado was listed among the 9 counties classified in the ‘Alarm’ drought phase. According to a recent National Drought Management Authority report (NDMA), Kajiado County lost 38.8% of its livestock population, 252,592 out of 652,856 between September and November 2022. 

The pastures in the area have been decreasing as a result of extended drought and the impacts of climate change. With the population of the County predominantly pastoralists who majorly depend on livestock for their livelihoods, a nomadic lifestyle has been vital to the residents of Kajiado County. However, the limited grazing fields and dried shrunken water sources are a threat to their survival and livelihoods thus representing a disruption and departure from normalcy.

Furthermore, this cultural disruption is also affecting children who now face malnutrition. Dalalekutuk Ward for instance- where Kimani resides- was listed alongside 7 other county wards identified as hotspots for malnutrition in the County as reported by the Kenya Food Security Steering Group and Kajiado County Steering Group. The report indicates that over 10 percent of children below 5 years in Kajiado County have been facing malnutrition since July 2022. Even more dreadful, the number of children below 5 years who were admitted into the supplementary feeding program (SFP) increased thirteen-fold between 2021 and 2022.

The same trend is mirrored in the outpatient therapeutic program (OTP) where the number of children below 5 years admitted in 2022 jumped by almost five times the number in 2021. OTP is a home-based treatment for children aged between 6-59 months with uncomplicated Severe Acute Malnutrition.


Mental Health Crisis

The effects disasters like droughts and floods have on the mental health of their victims are often overlooked. However, once in a while, they’re tragically expressed. 

On February 1, 2017, two herdsmen allegedly died by suicide in Kibish, Turkana North, after their livestock perished due to drought. According to a local daily, the two stabbed themselves to death after their animals, which is their main source of livelihood, died as a result of the depletion of pastures and water. This incident drew attention to the mental distress among the pastoralist communities caused by drought. 

Dr Catherine Wanja, a psychiatrist at the Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi, explained that the losses resulting from severe weather conditions could trigger mental disorders. “The heat does not cause the disorder directly. It’s the trauma from the loss that causes the stress.”

In the same regard, reliable sources from the Health Department in the Kajiado County Government who spoke to Africa Uncensored under the condition of anonymity linked an increase in substance abuse and Gender-Based Violence cases in the county to the ongoing drought. “Using our Gender-Based Violence Centres, there were some cases of domestic violence based on data from one centre. This is attributed to the stress factor,” the source explained, “You can imagine someone coming home and there is no food, while his livestock is emaciated and unhealthy.”

A particular case was repeatedly mentioned of parents lining up at a school alongside their children in order to be served food under the ongoing school feeding programme. “This is a clear indication of how dire the situation is in most households,” the source concluded.

According to research published in 2014 on Science Direct, two studies identified a relationship between ‘reduced precipitation and a rise in the local suicide rate’ among farmers in Australia. One of the studies, Hanigan, 2012, examining data on rural farmers affected by frequent droughts, states that the death of livestock compounded with economic stress increases suicide rates.

In addition, a report by the Taskforce on Mental Health in Kenya mentions climate change, associating droughts and floods with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) owing to the loss of livelihoods, poverty, and grief.

According to the Kajiado County Government, several measures are being undertaken to mitigate the climate disaster through different initiatives such as collaborating with their development partners to supply relief food to the residents. The County’s Deputy Director Vivian Mashipei who is in charge of Climate Change says that the County is providing psychological services to affected residents. “Those who suffer from mental health problems can get help from psychologists and psychiatrists in public medical institutions,” Vivian said.

This story was supported by the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications.



L.V. OBrien, H.L. Berry, C. Coleman, I.C. Hanigan,

Drought as a mental health exposure,

Environmental Research,

Volume 131,


Pages 181-187,

ISSN 0013-9351,


Luong TT, Handley T, Austin EK, Kiem AS, Rich JL, Kelly B. New Insights Into the Relationship Between Drought and Mental Health Emerging From the Australian Rural Mental Health Study. Front Psychiatry. 2021 Sep 1;12:719786. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.719786. Erratum in: Front Oncol. 2023 Feb 14;13:1145296. PMID: 34539467; PMCID: PMC8440818.

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Thomas Mukhwana

I am a journalist based in Nairobi with a passion for investigative journalism and data journalism producing content that sheds light on critical issues in the community. I break down complex ideas and matters into clear and straightforward stories for my audience using emerging storytelling techniques tailored to the needs of contemporary audiences.

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