Extreme drought threatens millions in Kenya

A drought of alarming proportions has placed in danger the lives of 2.3 million people living in 200 administrative divisions across Kenya. The Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki, has declared it a national disaster and expressed fears that many more may face starvation if the response is not swift.

A consequence of erratic and uneven distribution of rainfall during 2003, the current drought continues a series of recurrent droughts alternating with floods that have affected the country over the past decade. Most vulnerable to food insecurity are pastoralists and small-scale agriculturalists in the arid and semi arid lands.

"Donations from the national public and corporate sector enabled us to conduct food distributions in some of the most affected areas for the last two and a half months. But our resources are far too limited compared with the size of the current drought," said Farid Abdulkadir, Director of Disaster Preparedness and Response at the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), which is coordinating all humanitarian efforts at national level.

The International Federation is seeking 3.56 million Swiss francs (US$ 2.78 million) to enable Kenya Red Cross to assist the 200,000 most vulnerable drought-affected people, including 40,000 children in the districts of Kwale and Makueni for a period of six months. In the space of only one month, the number of people in need of assistance rose from 10 to 21 per cent of the population in Makueni after 121 people died when maize stocks were contaminated by aflatoxin.

The rapid drying up of the temporary water sources is putting a severe strain on livestock. Red Cross staff report that people and cattle have to walk up to eight hours a day to reach a water point. In competing for water, the weakest will often resort to consuming stagnating water from unprotected sources or swamps.

"As the dry season progresses, the risk of conflict over depleted resources between pastoralists and farmers is high in many regions and we are all doing our best to avoid that," says Adbdulkadir.

With 80 per cent of the crop in Eastern Province having reached permanent wilting point, there is a growing demand for cereals and pulses, but little is available. In Makueni, a bale of maize now sells for 1,000 Kenyan Shillings (US$13), where previously it cost 400. Meanwhile livestock prices are 40 per cent lower than during the pre-drought period. In Kwale, in Coast province, where nearly 50 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, the present drought has led to the near complete depletion of the household assets. Charcoal, once a source of decent revenue, is now selling for a third of its normal price.

"Our aim is to assist the affected population to cope with the present drought, reduce its impact, but also to initiate recovery activities," said Reidar Schaaning, Federation's acting Head of Regional Delegation. Besides distributing food the KRCS will work to rehabilitate water sources, improve sanitation and truck water to schools and medical institutions. Seeds and farming tools will also be distributed during the second phase of the operation.

For further information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

In Nairobi:

Anthony Mwangi, KRCS Public Relations Officer - Tel: + 254 20 60 35 93 / Mobile: + 254 722 206 958 or +254 733 333 040
Andreï Neacsu, Regional Information Delegate - Tel: + 254 20 271 14 43 / Mobile: + 254 733 632 943

In Geneva:

Roy Probert, Information Officer - Tel. + 41 22 730 42 96 / + 41 79 217 33 86
Media Service Duty Phone - Tel. + 41 79 416 38 81

The Geneva-based International Federation promotes the humanitarian activities of 178 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies among vulnerable people. By coordinating international disaster relief and encouraging development support, it seeks to prevent and alleviate human suffering. The Federation, National Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross together, constitute the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.