Following his visit to the epicentre of the Horn of Africa drought in northeastern Kenya, the head of WFP has warned that the human death toll could rise in the coming months without sufficient donations to head off a disaster.
These people have run out of water and food. Unless we reach them all very soon they will run out of time
WFP Executive Director James Morris
WFP Executive Director James Morris said WFP was running out of food for 3.5 million Kenyans in need of emergency assistance identified by a comprehensive assessment by the Government of Kenya, WFP and other UN agencies and partners in January.
While a donation from the Government of Kenya of 60,000 metric tons of maize and rice will cover the cereal requirements for March and April, WFP only has half the quantity of beans needed in Kenya for the month of March and no vegetable oil.
Pastoralists barely surviving
In addition, stocks of highly nutritious corn-soya blend – used to boost the nutritional status of vulnerable children and pregnant and nursing women – are extremely low.
“Yesterday I saw thousands of pastoralists barely existing in the town of El Wak in northeastern Kenya on the border with Somalia. They have lost their animals, and with them, their means of survival. They are forced to share the food aid they receive with new arrivals who are showing up each day,” Morris said.
“So far the human death toll is fairly limited. WFP and its partners are quickly registering the new arrivals to ensure they receive food, but we fear that any break in food supply to the most vulnerable people will lead to suffering and death on a much larger scale,” said Morris.
Time running out
“These people have run out of water and food. Unless we reach them all very soon they will run out of time,” he said.
The WFP head said he was very grateful for the recent support extended by numerous donors, several of whom have provided cash donations that enable the agency to move the Government of Kenya food.
However, the agency still requires US$189 million for its year-long emergency operation and ration cuts will only exacerbate the perilous malnutrition situation in the hardest-hit areas.
“If food aid is not adequate, many Kenyans who are so worn down after five consecutive poor seasons may simply not able to withstand another shock,” added Morris.
“And for those who have already lost all their livestock, the rains won’t mean they don’t need food aid.”
The Executive Director also expressed deep concern about the regional nature of the drought and its impact on neighbouring Somalia, where access to 1.4 million Somalis in need of emergency food aid in the south is difficult due to insecurity.
WFP requires US$34 million for its emergency operations in Somalia for the rest of 2006.
“While poor funding is hampering emergency drought operations in Kenya, WFP and other humanitarian agencies in southern Somalia face the enormous challenge of reaching drought victims in remote and insecure areas,” said Morris.
“We urge leaders and rival militia to set aside their differences and guarantee safe passage to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.”
In February, UN agencies including WFP and non-governmental organisations conducted a nutrition assessment in two camps for internally displaced people in Wajid town in southern Somalia and found a global acute malnutrition among children under five of 27.1 percent -- nearly double the 15 percent that indicates a food emergency – and a severe acute malnutrition rate of 8.6 percent.
The main causes of the growing malnutrition were diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections and food shortages.
A spate of ship hijackings off Somalia in 2005 closed WFP’s normal supply routes for food aid by sea. Overland relief convoys regularly face insecurity.
WFP is using a combination of the slower and more costly land routes and limited shipping to increase food deliveries to meet growing needs.
WFP has contingency plans for air drops, which are more costly than the land transport in case flooding when the rains come cuts road access.