The devastating drought sweeping across Kenya is causing widespread hunger, thirst and, in the case of cattle, death. Pictures of hundreds of cow carcasses being tipped into a mass grave near Nairobi highlight the scale of the natural disaster – and the clumsy or even negligent efforts of the government to deal with it.Aware that the drought was likely to cause pastoralists to lose significant parts of their herds, the government announced a 500m shilling (£4.1m) plan last month to buy weak animals from farmers for 8,000 shillings (£65) each. The plan provided for the animals to be transported by truck to the Kenya meat commission depot in Athi River, a town near Nairobi, where they would be held, fed, and slaughtered, with the meat sold to recoup costs.But many of the trucks transporting the cows hundreds of miles from as far away as north-eastern province, had insufficient water and food on board, causing large numbers of animals to die along the way. Of those that arrived alive, many soon perished owing to a lack of pasture in the holding bay.The botched operation has caused anger and embarrassment among MPs, especially given that the government has been asking donors for urgent financial help in feeding the nearly 10 million Kenyans who are food insecure.“They should have slaughtered the animals at the point of origin, not money to bring them to Athi River to be buried,” said John Muthotho, chairman of the parliamentary committee on agriculture, which has accused the meat commission and the livestock ministry of incompetence.Drought has long been a theme in Kenya, and east Africa more broadly, though the extreme dry spells appear to be hitting with more frequency. Over the past decade pastoralists have become used to marching vast distances in search of grazing, ending up in once-unlikely areas.In Nairobi, the sight of Masai herders grazing their cows in upmarket suburbs or blocking the highway as their cattle amble across no longer raises eyebrows. In the Masai Mara game reserve tourists enter the park each day to see the wild animals roam the vast plains but at night it is the herders, who are being allowed to drive in thousands of cattle to graze.The crisis is being exacerbated by high food prices, caused by poor harvests but also poor government planning that has left a large hole in the grain reserves. During the recent holidays many schools that serve lunches during term time stayed open simply so the pupils could be assured of eating one meal a day.There is also a serious water shortage, with some neighbourhoods in Nairobi going without for weeks at a time. One reason is drought, but the destruction of water catchment areas – in some cases with the encouragement of the authorities – has not helped. With the electricity supply largely dependent of hydropower, low dam levels have also led to widespread power rationing.