February 9, 2009

Drought Taking Hold In Kenya

The government of Kenya has declared a state of emergency due to a cruel drought that is starting to bite into east Africa's biggest economy.

According to Reuters, the government claims 10 million people may face hunger and starvation after a poor harvest, crop failure, a lack of rain and rising food prices.

The country's economy is recovering from last year's post-election violence and facing fallout from the global slowdown on export markets.

The administration is appealing for international food aid, but Kenyans are horrified by multi-million dollar government scandals in the maize and fuel sectors amidst the food shortage.

The Kenya Food Security Meeting (KFSM) said food security was critical for 3.7 million people in January, including half a million schoolchildren.

"High food and non-food prices, livestock disease, crop failure and conflict have compounded already precarious food insecurity," the KFSM said in its monthly update.

The report found rainfall at the end of 2008 was small after three successive dry seasons. Near Waregadud in Mandera the rainfall was just 10 to 20 percent of normal levels in the October-December period.

The Mandera region bordering Ethiopia and Somalia is also prone to drought. The lack of rain has left dams dry, pasture is dwindling, and herders warn tension is rising as animals and humans compete for resources.

Abduallahi Abdi, head of the village council that manages the borehole at Waregadud, worries that children are becoming malnourished.

"We are skipping meals. We eat just one meal at night," he said. "In the next few weeks, things are likely to become serious as we are already in a dire situation."

"If we don't get assistance before then we will start getting human deaths," Abdi said. "It is shameful to ask for help -- we do it with a lot of reservations -- but when things are out of hand we have no choice."

However, aid has not come easy for Kenya and neighboring drought-prone countries in the Horn of Africa. Traditional donors struggling with economic crisis are not meeting aid demands.

Aid workers say the crisis is especially severe due to high food and fuel prices worldwide. Also, in Kenya post-election violence meant farmers in the fertile Rift Valley failed to plant crops.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched an appeal for $95 million in December to help those at risk of starvation in the Horn of Africa. So, far only six percent of the appeal has been raised.

"When the governments of the world are busy bailing out car companies ... it's a shame that for a fraction of that they can't intervene to save millions," said Andrei Engstrand-Neacsu, IFRC communications officer for east Africa.


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