Kenya: Post-election conflict precipitates extreme food insecurity in rural, urban centers

Allegations of election fraud in Kenya's December 27 presidential election have sparked violent conflict among rival supporters, precipitating a humanitarian crisis that has resulted in a food security emergency for normally food secure populations in the Rift Valley, Western and Nyanza and among the urban poor in Nairobi Province. The Government of Kenya (GoK) estimates that 256,000 people – mostly pro-government supporters – have been displaced from their homes in opposition strongholds. Most are fleeing Kenya's breadbasket, and have little or no means to sustain their livelihoods. The number is dynamic because of constant movement of the displaced, declining in some areas yet increasing in others. Many of the displaced are being sheltered in churches, schools, prisons and police stations, while a few have integrated into households in safe areas creating a new group of extremely food insecure persons. An additional 5,400 people from western Kenya have fled to Uganda.

Figure 1 shows the location of most of the conflict.

The food security impacts of the crisis have reverberated across the country. Nearly 20 percent (300,000 MT) of the maize crop in the country's uni-modal, long-rains dependent grain-basket had not been harvested at the onset of the crisis. Some of this maize is likely to be lost after households fled their farms. The crisis also has forestalled the National Cereals and Produce Board's (NCPB) cereals purchases, and farmers who harvested their grain before the crisis fear it may degrade in storage, as most input stores that supply storage chemicals are not functioning to capacity. Should the stores fail to restore their operations within the next three months, a significant portion of the already-harvested crops could be lost, eroding part of the current national surplus and precipitating price increases. An increase in maize prices, the key staple, would hurt consumers in all areas of the country outside the Rift Valley highlands, because of the dependence on the province as the key grain supply. Already consumers in urban centers across the country are purchasing 2-kg of milled maize at a prohibitive Ksh. 80 instead of the normal price of Ksh. 50. Many of the millers are not operating to capacity and access to maize for milling from the clash epicenters is fraught with risks. The southeastern marginal agricultural farm households have experienced a poor short rains season and are also expected to be adversely affected by constrained production in the Rift Valley highlands their main source of grain.

Substantial output losses are also being reported in crisis-affected areas, as perishables (milk and vegetables) begin to rot as ongoing insecurity leads to the closure of key markets. Some farmers who are displaced are trying to salvage their livelihood by returning to work their farms during the day and going to police stations and churches, where they are sheltered, in the evening. Shortages of gasoline and the closure of key institutions (the NCPB, milk delivery depots, millers, veterinary services etc.) have paralyzed many other income-earning opportunities, including agricultural production, the main driver of the rural economy. Even if the unrest ends soon, it is unlikely that the displaced will be able to resettled immediately as most have lost their homes and productive assets. However, aggregate domestic supply of cereals would probably not be seriously affected if the institutions begin to function quickly.

Urban food insecurity has also increased in cities such as Kisumu, Mombasa and Nairobi. In Kisumu City, the epicenter of urban clashes, many businesses have been burnt down or looted, and the majority of the working population no longer has income-earning opportunities giving rise to another group of extremely food insecure persons. Recovery for those populations may take much longer, even when normalcy returns because reconstruction of businesses is unlikely to be instantaneous.

An estimated 575 persons have died in the crisis, and several more are injured. Most of the deaths are reported in Nyanza, Rift Valley and Nairobi provinces. Some deaths have also been reported in the Western and Coast provinces. The 575 include productive members of several households and as a result food insecurity is bound to increase for the remaining members of those households, for the foreseeable future.

The Kenya Red Cross (KRC) has appealed for US $15.4 million to address needs, including public health; water and sanitation; capacity building; security; food relief; non-food relief and communication. The GoK has donated an estimated $7.5 million to the on-going relief effort. The United States Government, the Australian Government, DFID and other international agencies have also contributed substantive amounts to the multi-sectoral relief efforts. The GoK is coordinating multi-agency sectoral working groups to intervene in health and nutrition; water and sanitation; agriculture and livestock; education; relief food and peace-building sectors. The GoK, WFP, the KRC and other agencies are now able to access some of displaced populations because roads previously cut off by gangs are slowing opening up. Some of the relief supplies in the hardest-hit areas are being airlifted by the Kenya Air Force or escorted by the military and police. The KRC has indicated that the magnitude of the crisis is overwhelming, and significant logistical and material support is urgently required.

While the GoK and aid agencies will likely avert a catastrophe in the short term, it is probable that food insecurity will remain extremely high for households that have been displaced, until they resettle into their normal productive activities. Food insecurity is also heightened in urban centers in all crisis areas where opportunities for work have been curtailed amidst untenable coping strategies such as relief food. Food insecurity for farm and urban households outside crisis areas is also accentuated because prices of foodstuff and other commodities have increased dramatically. In particular, farm households in the marginal agricultural who are short rains-dependent are likely to experience a significant deterioration in their food security after poor short rains from October through January 2007. A political resolution is urgently required to ensure that the medium- and long-term food security of the displaced and all affected persons is speedily restored to its pre-election status.