Early this year, Kenyans reacted with shock when a family in Turkana County in northwest Kenya roasted two puppies for dinner, following a severe famine.
The pictures of the family seated around the roasted puppies became a major topic on social media for many days.
According to county administration officials, the woman said she had no alternative but to roast her puppies because she could not sit and watch her children die of hunger.
Though relief food was immediately sent to the family, it revealed the magnitude of poverty in some of the country’s remote areas, where harsh climatic conditions reign supreme, to say nothing of the limited opportunities available for escaping the problem.
In fact, according to the latest Socio-Economic Atlas of Kenya report, Turkana is one of the counties with the highest number of people living below the poverty line or less than $1.25 a day.
Although the national poverty rate has fallen marginally from 46 per cent to the current 45.2 per cent in the past few years, the main worry is the 17 million Kenyans (nearly half of the country’s population) who still live on less than $1.25 a day.
Some economists believe the number could be higher given the fact that the figure quoted was based on the 2009 census, which had the total population at 38 million. The World Bank currently puts Kenya’s population at 44.35 million.
“Clearly, poverty reduction must remain at the top of the country’s development agenda,” says the recently launched Socio-Economic Atlas, which highlights socio-economic development indicators based on the 2009 Population and Housing Census and 2005/6 Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey data.
The problem is not confined to Kenya since other East African Community member states are also grappling with poverty.
As the 2015 deadline approaches for countries to meet the first Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people living below the poverty line, millions in the region are still caught in the poverty trap.
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“I do not see any of the East African countries meeting the MDG target of halving poverty by next year. They still have a lot to do to improve the standard of living and create more opportunities for their populations,” said Robert Lwanga, a consultant on development issues.
Burundi, a country that has suffered years of instability due to internal conflict, has the highest percentage of people living below the poverty line, followed by Kenya.
According to World Bank figures, 66.7 per cent of Burundians live below the poverty line. In other words, out of a population of 10.16 million, 6.8 million are considered poor.
“The recent human development index showed that seven out of 10 Burundians still live on less than $1.25 a day. It means Burundi must achieve and sustain high economic growth rates over a long period to pull more people out of poverty,” said Mr Lwanga.