Already, 1.6 million Kenyans are receiving food aid to compensate for drought and poor harvests. Government however warns the number could skyrocket to 5 million within a few months, as rains have kept failing.
According to UN humanitarian sources, the La Niña climate phenomenon has also caused the October to December rains in Kenya to fall short, in particular in the already arid and semi-arid north-eastern part of the country. This was “currently interfering with livestock and agricultural production in most parts of the country.”
Livestock deaths, acute food shortage and increased migration by pastoralist communities due to depletion of pasture and water for livestock have been reported. At least five persons have reportedly died from hunger this year.
The prolonged dry spell was also leading to increases in food prices, which were further compromising the food security for vulnerable populations in Kenya. Some areas, especially along the Somali border, even experienced acute water shortages.
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) is already strongly present in these arid parts of Kenya, which still cope with the aftermaths of the 2008 drought. Originally, the WFP had planned to downscale its operations in Kenya in February, but as new reports of drought and food shortages reach the UN agency, these plans have been scrapped.
The WFP currently provides food aid to 1.6 million Kenyans, mostly in the same areas hit by the current drought. UN humanitarian agencies yet have to make a full-fledged analysis of the current food security situation, but the WFP indicates it is now most likely it will “adjust operations upwards” following the ongoing assessment.
The UN agency warns it will likely face a funding shortfall in April. The Kenyan Red Cross, on the other hand, already has launched an emergency appeal, seeking to raise US$ 19 million for drought stricken Kenyans.
Kenyan government sources hold that the situation is graver than the UN currently presumes. Minister Esther Murugi, responsible of government food relief programmes, today told the Nairobi parliament that the number of Kenyans requiring relief food will increase to five million in the next three months.
In addition to the urgent need for more food aid, Minister Murugi emphasised on the emergent lack of water in several parts of the country. Not only did livestock and cultivators lack water. Several drinking water magazines were becoming empty, in particular in the crisis-struck Turkana district, she warned.
Minister Murugi however did not believe there was any reason to declare a national disaster over the ongoing drought.