By Helen Nyambura
KAKUMA, Kenya, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of refugees living in camps in Kenya risk going hungry because donors are diverting food to other parts of Africa, U.N. aid workers said this week.
The United Nations, which cut rations by 25 percent last week for 220,000 refugees camped in northern Kenya, said it was in danger of running out of food supplies in the next few months unless donors found more resources.
With 38 million people in danger of starvation in Africa, donors risk neglecting refugees in Kenya in favour of higher profile crises in southern Africa and Ethiopia, aid workers said.
''The fact that there are so many more people in Africa in need of food does not mean that these people here are in less need than they were,'' said Laura Melo, spokeswoman for the U.N. emergency food aid arm, the World Food Programme (WFP).
''That is what we are stressing, do not forget these people because this food is all they get,'' she told Reuters in Kenya's Kakuma refugee camp while aid workers doled out maize and beans to hundreds of refugees gathered for their rations.
Kakuma, a large cluster of mud huts set in the parched northwest of Kenya, and Dadaab camp in the east, is home to refugees from across the Horn of Africa, with most coming from neighbouring Sudan and Somalia.
The refugees have few opportunities to farm in the desolate wasteland surrounding Kakuma and Dadaab, rendering them almost entirely dependent on food aid. The WFP launches periodic appeals for food for the camps.
''I have no future in Kakuma,'' said 52-year-old Mary Achuoth, flipping maize meal pancakes outside her grass-thatched hut to feed 11 people in her household. ''If they abandon me here, I have nothing to survive on. The soil is infertile and there is no water.''
Refugees live on maize, beans, wheat flour and a little cooking oil handed out by aid workers. Vegetables are a luxury they can only afford when they barter their rations with the local Turkana people.
Aid workers say there is a chronic shortage of food in the camps, where rations meant to last families 15 days are usually finished within 12 days. Most of the refugee children going to school in the camp turn up for classes hungry.
Some 14 million people are threatened by food shortages in six south African countries -- Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Swaziland and Lesotho.
The United Nations says time is running out to send food aid to 11 million people in drought-stricken Ethiopia.
Neighbouring Eritrea called in November for urgent aid to feed 2.3 million people at risk of starvation because of drought.
The WFP has appealed for 20,000 tons of food, worth $10 million dollars, to feed refugees in Kenya until September.
The number of refugees in Kenya has increased significantly since 1999 because of lingering insecurity in neighbouring Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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