The Government of Kenya has declared a
national disaster in 19 districts due to the drought. An estimated 3.3
million people are at risk of starvation. Over a million children and 430,000
pregnant and lactating women are in urgent need of supplemental food, health
care, and clean water.
"Kenya is...facing a dramatic humanitarian crisis," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said on June 21 after returning from a five-nation tour of the Horn of Africa. "I was told in several small villages in the north of the country that this drought appears to be worse that anything in the '80s or '90s. Moreover, unlike some parts of Ethiopia and Somalia, northern Kenya has not seen any rain at all in recent months."
The worst hit area is the Turkana district, located in northwestern Kenya. An estimated 250,000 people who live in Turkana are struggling to find food and water. Further west, along the Ethiopian border, families in the Kenyan district of Moyale face a similarly threatening situation, as well as those in Marsabit (south of Moyale) and Mandera (in the northwestern corner of Kenya).
Fifteen primary schools in Kenya's north-central Samburu district have been closed due to food and water shortages and security concerns caused by increasing civil conflicts, according to UN reports. In the Eastern Province, nearly 60,000 pupils have stopped attending classes for similar reasons.
Northern Kenya is often referred to as the Rift Valley, known for its usually rich maize-producing plains. The valley supplies food for the entire population of Kenya, an estimated 30 million people. However, rainfall has been below average and low crop production has pushed food prices beyond the reach of most families. Drought conditions have also dried up pasture and water used for livestock.
At the request of the Government of Kenya, UNICEF is serving as the lead humanitarian relief organization in providing health care, food supplies, education, water and sanitation to drought-affected areas.
Children, women, and the elderly are suffering most in Kenya. Poor infrastructure is making the delivery of humanitarian supplies to affected areas a slow and difficult process. Additionally, recent conflicts with bordering neighbors Somalia and Ethiopia has created an insecure situation for aid workers. Tensions are rising as Ethiopian and Somali families in search of food cross into Kenya, depleting what few food, water, and health care resources remain in a country already unable to care for its own people.
Health and Nutrition:
In June, a survey was conducted in six districts by the Applied Nutrition Program at the University of Nairobi, with support from UNICEF. The survey found that malnutrition rates among Kenyan children under five years of age are dangerously high.
Over 700 tons of UNIMIX supplementary food (a special formula of maize, beans, sugar, oils, and essential vitamins for severely malnourished children) and 15 emergency health and medicine kits to benefit over 300,000 people are on order. An additional 74 tons of high-energy biscuits will soon be delivered to boost supplementary feeding programs in the districts of Turkana, Marsabit, and Wajir. The US Agency for International Development has provided $1.1 million to UNICEF for a nutrition program that will benefit an estimated 99,000 children. This program will provide essential drugs and supplementary dry rations to children in the northern districts of Turkana, Moyale, Mandera, and Marsabit. Other UNICEF-supported nutritional programs include plans for a massive school feeding project for a million children and supplementary feeding programs that will begin shortly for 430,000 pregnant or lactating women and severely malnourished children under age 5.
UNICEF is also providing oral rehydration salts, used to treat and prevent deadly diarrhea and dehydration caused by drinking contaminated water from ponds and rivers. Cholera and dysentery, also caused by drinking contaminated water, are on the rise, as well. Plans are on-going for vaccination campaigns to protect children and women from communicable diseases that often occur in emergencies, such as measles and tuberculosis. Over 1.7 million children under the age of five are targeted to receive vaccinations.
Water and Sanitation:
As the lead water and sanitation organization in the Horn of Africa, UNICEF is providing emergency water tanks (large water containers) and jerrycans for individual families (each can holds about 2.6 gallons of drinking water and is easy to carry in emergency situations). UNICEF has been directly supporting the maintenance, rehabilitation, and installation of more than 50 water supply points in Kenya. Forty additional pumps are being delivered to drought-affected districts. Communities are participating in UNICEF-supported training programs that are designed to insure that water and sanitation facilities will function over the long-term.