Number of Kenyans in need of food aid jumps by over 50%


THE NUMBER of Kenyans in urgent need of food aid has jumped by more than 50 per cent to almost four million, according to official figures, as the country is hit by mass hunger, as well as shortages of power and water.

The immediate cause of the three-fold crisis is a prolonged drought, but critics of Kenya’s dysfunctional coalition government blame it for failing to mitigate the drought’s effects despite clear warning signs. The government was already facing public discontent over its failure to implement political reforms pledged after last year’s post-election crisis, but the food, water and power shortages are adding to the anger.

Figures released yesterday by the government, the UN and aid agencies showed that the number of Kenyans needing food aid had risen to 3.8 million from 2.5 million due to the failure of the “long rains”, which normally begin in April. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) says it is the worst food crisis since a drought in 2000 and is appealing to international donors for more funds.

Water available for domestic and industrial use is limited and, due to Kenya’s dependence on hydropower, the drought has forced energy rationing in Nairobi, where many residents do not have electricity more than half the time.

Kenya’s grain reserves are set to run out in the next two months: the country has an estimated 500,000 tonnes but its monthly requirement is 300,000 tonnes. In pastoral regions more than 20 per cent of children under five are already suffering from acute malnutrition, according to the WFP.

In Isiolo, a town in the north, cash was disappearing from the local economy due to the failure of three rainy seasons, said Yusuf Hussein of Friends of Nomads International. “We are not expecting rain until October or November, so if immediate measures are not put in place I think people are going to die.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009