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Urgent assistance as Kenya sinks deeper into crisis

After the near total failure of the annual long rains in many parts of Kenya, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed for more than US$230 million to provide emergency food assistance over the next six months to 3.8 million Kenyans affected by deepening drought and continued high food prices.

“Red lights are flashing across the country,” said Burkard Oberle, WFP Kenya Country Director. “People are already going hungry, malnutrition is preying on more and more young children, cattle are dying – we face a huge challenge and are urging the international community to provide us with the resources we need to get the job done.”

WFP is currently assisting 2.6 million drought-affected Kenyans with general food distributions. The Kenyan government will support the new caseload of 1.2 million people until the end of October. In order to feed all 3.8 million people for the next six months, WFP and the Kenyan government will require strong support from donors in the weeks ahead.

Many parts of the country have now experienced three or even four consecutive failed rainy seasons and conditions are expected to deteriorate further over the coming months. According to the government-led long rains assessment, the main maize harvest is projected to be 28 percent lower than the five-year average. Pasture and water for livestock are dwindling rapidly.

Some of the worst affected Kenyans have been pushed to the edge and are struggling to survive. Many are adopting extreme coping strategies, such as reducing the number of meals each day, eating cheaper and less nutritious foods, migrating to urban centres and taking on massive debt.

Acute malnutrition rates among children under five are over 20 percent in some areas – well above the 15 percent emergency threshold.

Pastoralist communities are particularly affected. As food prices remain 100 to 130 percent above normal, prices for their livestock – most of them in poor condition – have been heading in the opposite direction. The sale of one goat used to buy a 90 kilogramme bag of maize, now it might require as many as four goats in some areas.

Most pastoralists have been forced to migrate large distances with their cattle in a desperate search for pasture, leaving their wives and children without access to milk – normally such a vital part of their diet.

WFP will also expand its school meals programme by 100,000 to reach nearly 1.2 million children across the worst affected areas. The government of Kenya is also providing school meals to about half a million more children under their own school meals programme.

School meals are an effective social safety net for hard-hit communities, providing vital assistance to hungry children and ensuring they can continue their education. WFP has continued to provide school meals to over a million children in Kenya in August during the holidays, following a request by the government.

“Life has never been easy for the poor in Kenya, but right now conditions are more desperate than they have been for a decade,” said Oberle. “WFP is aiming to help almost 1 in every 10 Kenyans to cope with this serious crisis but we can’t do it without money.”

by S. C.
30 august 2009, World News > Africa