January 15, 2006

Food aid theft hurts Kenya’s starving millions

By Nita Bhalla

GARISSA, Kenya (Reuters) - Millions of Kenyans are
teetering on the edge of starvation because of a severe
drought, their plight worsened by corrupt officials stealing
and selling sacks of food aid, analysts say.

The government says the lack of rains for three straight
years has left 2.5 million people close to starvation,
prompting President Mwai Kibaki to declare the drought a
national disaster and appeal for $150 million to feed the

Police raids on shops in the northeast town of Garissa and
the arrests of traders have confirmed that many responsible for
handing out aid have been stealing and selling it.

"Of course, we are concerned when we hear about people
stealing food from the mouths of those who are hungry," said
Osman Gure Yusuf, community development officer with the Arid
Lands Resource Management Project for Wajir district.

"If there is any misappropriation by chiefs or councilors,
it won't be tolerated."

While the response to appeals has been slow, aid agencies
say the theft of food aid shows the need for distribution to be
better monitored to save lives and reassure foreign donors.

The Daily Nation newspaper called for traders found guilty
of selling relief food to be prosecuted.

"Nothing demonstrates the shamelessness of corruption in
our society more than the fact that those selling the food aid
did not even bother to remove the 'Government of Kenya relief
-- not for sale' labels on the bags," it said in Saturday's

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua was not immediately
available for comment.


The United Nations says 6 million people in the region are
facing starvation, with Somalia and Ethiopia in the Horn of
Africa particularly exposed.

The drought has forced thousands of Kenyans to trek through
the dusty plains with their animals, looking for food and
distribution points.

"We have been waiting for so many weeks but nothing has
come and our children will die if no one helps us," says Harira
Aden Ali, cradling her one-month-old baby girl, Amina.

"Since Amina was born, I haven't even been able to even
give her milk as my breasts have dried up through lack of food
and water -- as I starve, so will she."

Figures are sketchy for the number of deaths so far from
hunger and hunger-related illnesses in the country, but experts
believe there are far more than the dozens officially recorded.

Drought experts point to poor monitoring of government
distribution of food, as well as a lack of trucks to transport
it, as key problems.

They also say aid agencies and the government need to
coordinate their efforts better because the former have
targeted those most in need, while the government has opted for
blanket distributions to anyone, vulnerable or not.

Aid agencies strictly follow all stages of the food
dispatch -- from flagging off trucks from the warehouse to the
signature or thumb-print of the recipient of the monthly

But with few officials on the ground to check where the
food goes after it reaches local districts, this leaves the
door open for the misappropriation of government food such as
in Garissa.