Famine in Kenya likely to spread and intensify

As Kenyans spends billion of shillings on food and drinks this festive season, several thousands of their compatriots will be sleeping hungry.

Already, about a dozen people are reported to have died of hunger in Kenya's frontier district of Mandera.

Last week, the Kenyan government appealed for urgent food aid, saying hundreds of thousands of people in arid and semi-arid areas in the east and northeast parts of the country will go hungry because the short rains failed.

"We need support from non-governmental organisations, the international community and private companies," said John Munyes, the Minister for Special Programmes in the Office of the President.

According to the Minister, the districts worst hit by food shortage are Garissa, Mandera and Wajir in North Eastern province; Marsabit and Mwingi in Eastern province; Laikipia in Central Kenya; Tana River in Coast province and Samburu and Turkana in the Rift Valley.

Other areas facing acute food shortage in Kenya are Kwale, Kilifi, Tana River, Malindi, Lamu and Taita-Taveta districts, all in Coast province.

In the same week, the UN World Food Programme warned that the number of people in need of food in Kenya was expected to rise to 2.5 million in the first half of 2006 because the October-December short rains had failed in many eastern and northern districts.

Some 1.1 million Kenyans are currently receiving food aid.

WFP adds that the international response to pleas for food aid for Kenya is inadequate.

Only $25 million and a few pledges from donors have been received so far.

The appeal was extended from September 2005 to March 2006.

Tesema Negash, the WFP country director for Kenya, says that there had been a shortfall of $46 million in donor contributions to its $127 million emergency operation kitty for drought-affected areas of Kenya.

Additional aid is needed to address health crises in the affected areas and to buy livestock from the pastoralists before they sell them at low prices or die.

The famine is likely to spread and intensify in the coming months, warned Mr Negash. "The lives of many Kenyans will be lost unless donors respond quickly and generously. We must receive donations as early as possible in 2006 or it will be too late for many people."

The United States ranks as the largest single donor to WFP's emergency operation in Kenya.

It has provided $36 million, compared with $18 million from the Kenyan government; $7.8 million from the UK; $7 million in multilateral aid, mainly from the European Union and $4 million from Japan.

Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland, Finland, Norway and Switzerland have also made contributions.

Members of Parliament from North Eastern Province say livestock, which is the mainstay of the pastoralists in the region, are dying because of dwindling pasture and lack of water.

"The early warning indicators are showing a rapidly deteriorating situation. We need immediate action to avoid the loss of lives and assets," said Mr Negash in a statement.

Until our field assessments are completed in January, we won't know exactly how many more people will require emergency food aid, but in areas suffering from successive droughts, food security is already critical," he said.

Meanwhile, in Somalia, a further one million people are at risk, 345,000 of them in a situation described by the UNHCR as "an acute food and livelihood crisis." Another group of 200,000 is classified as being in a "humanitarian emergency" and 400,000 are internally displaced.

After 14 years of civil war, un- employment, human-rights abuses, disruption in trade and commerce, disease and violence have compounded the problems caused by flooding and drought cycles.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said recently, "I cannot stress enough the need and the urgency to provide a safe operating space for humanitarian agencies to reach these people."

Somalia needs a serious approach by the international community to help the UN in achieving its mission.

Widespread violence is hampering the security of supply convoys and the humanitarian crisis has driven many people to desperate situations, increasing the violence even further.