KENYA: IRIN Focus on drought and Hunger [19991029]

KENYA: IRIN Focus on drought and Hunger [19991029]

KENYA: IRIN Focus on drought and hunger

NAIROBI, 29 October (IRIN) - Recent media reports say over one million people in Kenya are currently affected by drought-related hunger, due to poor rains, crop failure and poverty.

The Kenyan government has yet to release a statement, but an official on Tuesday confirmed that some 18 districts in five of the country's eight provinces are affected. According to the permanent secretary in the Office of the President, Zakayo Cheruiyot, the worst-hit area is the country's northern Turkana district.

Other areas identified as being under the "greatest stress" include Mandera, Moyale and Wajir, with districts such as the Tana River, Marsabit and Garissa also considerably affected.

Cheruiyot however denied reports of hunger-related deaths in Turkana. "People in Turkana can barely get a meal a day, but nobody has so far died of lack of food in the area," the 'Daily Nation' newspaper quoted him as saying. He said the current situation was due to bad weather, crop failure and late rains.

"There is a problem," USAID's Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) representative for East Africa, Nick Maunder, told IRIN on Friday. "There has been low rainfall which has led to poor harvests in several areas." In some areas, food was available in the markets but people were "too broke" to purchase it.

At a crisis meeting with all the provincial commissioners on Tuesday, the government decided to allocate some US $4 million for drought relief. Cheruiyot told journalists the country requires one million bags of maize for the next six months. So far, some 64,000 bags of maize had been distributed and a further 258,000 bags of maize and beans in store would also be distributed.

"The government of Kenya has put out a logical food distribution quantity, enough to deal with the current problem," Maunder said. But according to a joint inter-ministerial and NGO assessment committee, food aid was a "very negative" option to take, he added. The committee put more emphasis on the need to establish and strengthen complementary options such as water availability, human and livestock health, livestock marketing, insecurity and conflict resolution. "Right now, the joint team is awaiting the outcome of the current short rains to determine the course of action to take," he said. "If they [short rains] fail then the situation could be worse."

A Kenya Food Security Meeting between the government and NGOs found that the pastoral districts are currently experiencing a more acute food and water shortage than the marginal agricultural areas. In its October report, it warned the predicted poor short rainy season meant that short-term food security for all the 18 districts was likely to decline in the year 2000.

"Another rain failure will be disastrous for large sections of the population whose livelihoods have been threatened by repeated shocks," the report warned.

A Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report in September forecast "significant crop output reductions" in the Eastern, Central and Rift Valley provinces due to drought. It said "worsening nutritional conditions" were also reported in pastoral and agro-pastoral areas.

However, official sources contacted by IRIN on Friday denied reports of famine in the country. They stressed there were several facets to the current food scarcity. "There is the problem of poor internal marketing...Some areas harvested more than they need. They had bumper crops and these could be transported to needy areas."

Another issue was that farmers with bumper harvests were hanging onto their maize, waiting for better prices. "The millers, on the other hand, are now pressing for a total zero rating so that they can import and flood the country with the commodity," the sources said. "But this could lead to a worse situation next year because farmers will not plant maize as a result."

"The other problem is that people are very poor in most of the hard-hit areas and cannot afford to buy the food," the sources added. They expressed the belief that the stock already harvested would last until next February.

For the time being, food agencies and NGOs are awaiting the government's official assessment of the situation to decide on the next course of action to take.


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Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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