February 8, 2006

Kenya appeals for $221 mln in aid as drought bites

By Wangui Kanina

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya needs $221.5 million in aid to
help feed 3.5 million people threatened by starvation due to
drought and avoid a "massive humanitarian catastrophe," the
government and the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Kenya and U.N. aid agencies launched a joint appeal for
urgent donor support as Oxfam warned the food crisis in east
Africa's most developed country could become its worst in more
than four decades.

"Failure to quickly fund the Kenyan aid effort could lead
to large-scale loss of life and the worst humanitarian crisis
since Kenya gained independence (from Britain) in 1963," the
charity said in a statement.

The Kenyan appeal, issued together with the World Food
Program and other U.N. organizations, said 396,525 tonnes of
additional food assistance -- valued at $221.5 million -- was
needed to avoid mass suffering for the next 12 months.

"Donor pledges are urgently required to avoid a break in
food aid supplies in March 2006," a statement said.

Kenya is one of the worst-affected countries from a drought
afflicting east Africa since late 2005. Scores of people and
tens of thousands of livestock have died from starvation and
related diseases in the arid northern regions.

Desperate searches for water and pasture have intensified
clashes between Kenyan herders and pastoralists from
neighboring Somalia and Ethiopia.

"An estimated 3.5 million pastoral and farming people,
including 500,000 school children, require emergency aid," the
statement said. "The government of Kenya and its partners must
act now to avoid a massive humanitarian catastrophe."

It said short rains which normally extend from October to
December had failed, worsening the situation especially in the
arid north and east of the country.

Oxfam said malnutrition levels had reached a dangerous 30
percent in the worst-hit areas, more than double the level at
which an emergency is declared under U.N. standards.

"Unless there is swift intervention, growing numbers of
people will become severely malnourished and the mortality rate
will rapidly accelerate," Gezahegn Kebede, head of Oxfam in
Kenya, said in a statement.

"We can still stop this turning into full-blown crisis but
only if donor governments respond quickly and generously," he
said in Oxfam's statement.