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Spokesperson for South and East Asia
Marcus Prior, a former journalist, was WFP's East Africa spokesperson before coming to Bangkok in 2010 to head up public relations in South and East Asia.
NAIROBI -- WFP assessment teams are fanning out across Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands in a bid to assess as accurately as possible how people are coping following the short rains at the end of last year – rains which for many farmers, simply never came.
Field after field of maize across the marginal agricultural areas of Kenya stands blitzed by the tropical sun, unable to mature after the rains failed. For many, this is the third consecutive failed harvest, and based on historical data, WFP expects to increase the number of people receiving assistance to rise from the current 1.2 million, to closer to 3.2 million.
In addition, WFP’s school feeding programme is bracing itself for an additional 850,000 children on its books – up from the current 763,000.
Kenya can ill afford a maize shortage. Stocks in the national emergency reserve are little over ten percent of their legal requirement. Cross-border trade in the region has dwindled in the face of protectionist moves by some neighbouring states, where harvests have also been poor.
Even worse, high food prices have exacerbated the shortages, with prices more than 120 percent higher than long-term averages across the region. Urban residents are particularly vulnerable as they buy almost all their food on the local markets.
“This assessment and our subsequent response is a uniquely complex task, in that so many factors have come together to put people in such a dangerous situation,” said WFP Kenya Country Director Burkard Oberle. “I’ve visited some of the affected areas and it is frightening to see how completely people’s harvests have been wiped out.
“It was also interesting to note that where people have received our assistance to help build water pans and terraces, they have been protected to a significant extent from the worst effects of the drought. We need more funding for this kind of forward-thinking assistance which at the same time addresses the impact of climate change,” said Oberle.
WFP’s assessment teams will visit all affected areas in order to ensure the people most in need receive emergency assistance as quickly as possible.
WFP estimates the cost of scaling up its operations between February and July this year to be US$135 million.