Kenya: Thirty die of diseases, more displaced in the west

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

NAIROBI, 23 February 2007 (IRIN) - Thirty displaced people, including 24 children, have died of pneumonia and malaria in the western Kenyan district of Mt Elgon, the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) said.

"More than 24 displaced children and six adults have died so far due to these diseases," KRCS said on Thursday. "Children under the age of five are most vulnerable as this area is cold and full of mosquitoes."

According to the KRCS, health problems among the displaced people have been exacerbated by the lack of water and sanitation systems in churches, schools and government institutions where they sought refuge.

"The high number of IDPs [internally displaced persons] seeking medical attention is overwhelming us. Many people have been admitted to local dispensaries in the last two months," health officials from the Chwele and Malakisi health centres said.

"We have seen the number of patients double because of the influx of IDPs. We now have to work round the clock to attend to patients as there are limited facilities and health personnel," they added.

There were also fears of a possible outbreak of waterborne diseases due to the increased usage of untreated water.

Mount Elgon district, along the Kenya-Uganda border, has about 135,033 inhabitants. However, the area has seen increasing violence since the Kenyan government controversially allocated land to squatters and settled 1,732 families in Chepyuk in 2006. Fifty-nine people have died in the clashes, 104 have been wounded and 32,361 displaced in the past two months.

"Huruma area is completely deserted and only a few families are still staying at the market centre. Chances of them returning to their original homes are slim now because of fears over insecurity and destruction," KRCS said.

The clashes had also caused food shortages because most of the local residents depend on agriculture. "Although only a part of the district is affected by clashes, the entire district is now adversely affected by low supplies of agricultural produce leading to food shortages," KRCS said.

"Our assessment indicates that the IDPs will urgently need clean water and improved sanitation facilities especially mobile latrines, regular supplies of food and non-food items, warm clothing especially for the children, pregnant mothers and the elderly, and fuel," it added.