UN envoy says drought-hit Kenya needs more help

By Rosalind Russell

NAIROBI, Sept 19 (Reuters) - A severe drought has left millions of Kenyans hungry or destitute but the response of the international community has been unenthusiastic, the U.N.'s special envoy to the Horn of Africa said on Tuesday.

Catherine Bertini, also executive director of the U.N.'s World Food Programme, said that 3.3 million Kenyans were in "dire need" of food relief but nearly one-third of $130 million needed had yet to be raised.

"We haven't had a lot of food over the summer so some of the rations levels have been cut," Bertini told reporters in the capital Nairobi.

"We don't have enough food, we don't have enough water and sanitation equipment and we don't have enough seeds."

On her second visit to the region this year, Bertini visited the Kajiado district of southern Kenya on Monday where barely any rain has fallen on the dusty, savannah plains for two years.

She watched young men from the Maasai tribe drag up buckets of water from a 30 metre (100 foot) bore hole in a desperate attempt to keep their remaining cattle alive.

Local officials say the pastoralist Maasai in Kajiado have lost around 85 percent of their livestock in the past year.

Some cattle have died from hunger and disease, others have been sold off cheaply, while some herders have driven their animals as far as Nairobi in search of grazing in the city's parks and gardens.

"I used to have ten cows and thirty goats," said Serena, a mother of nine. "Now I am left with only one goat. This is the worst time for us, worse than we have ever known."

The Maasai are now almost entirely dependent on food handouts from WFP and other aid agencies, and receive a small monthly ration of maize, pulses and oil -- a diet strange to people who usually survive on meat, milk and blood.

"At first I couldn't get used to the food, it made my stomach ache," said Makarot, a skinny 12-year-old schoolboy. "Now we only dream about milk but we are getting used to it."

Some donors have been reluctant to give loans or aid to Kenya because of its reputation for rampant corruption -- the country was ranked the ninth most corrupt country in the world in a recent report by Transparency International.

Traditional donors such as the European Union have failed to pledge any food relief, but Bertini said distributions were monitored by the U.N. and tried to reassure donors that their money would be well spent.

"The distribution of humanitarian relief (in Kenya) is probably the best in the region," she said. "It's a good and honest process."


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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