Church World Service warns of Kenya starvation threat

By agency reporter
1 Feb 2009

Without immediate, massive intervention and assistance, starvation in Kenya will become a deadly reality, according to a new assessment report from global humanitarian agency Church World Service.

The country’s leaders proclaimed a national crisis on 16 January 2009, with some ten million Kenyans—nearly a third of the country’s population—now being affected by food insecurity.

CWS has launched a US fundraising campaign and its Nairobi-based East Africa office is responding to the growing crisis with immediate food and nutritional aid in the agricultural districts of Makueni and Mwingi in Kenya’s drought-plagued Eastern Province. The effort is targeted to benefit 20,237 people.

An assessment team from CWS’s East Africa office in Nairobi reports desperation after visiting the Eastern districts of Mwingi, Kitui, Mackakos and Makueni to determine the effects of massive food shortages and the ongoing drought.

Church World Service, an international development agency of US churches, says there is a serious need for emergency food relief and supplementary feeding for those five and under and for the aged, as well as rehabilitation of dry water basins and construction of water-retaining sand dam structures.

The agency is working with four local grassroots and church partners, providing assistance to affected families in the agricultural districts of Makueni and Mwingi in Kenya’s Eastern Province-where 2008’s massive drought struck large sections of the province, leaving farmers with failing crops.

The CWS response will include: immediate food aid; enhancing selective feeding programs among children and people living with HIV and AIDS, and where nutrition is already poor or deteriorating, particularly among pastoral households; providing additional food allocations to assist school feeding programs in schools where enrollment has decreased due to drought; and seed distribution.

Visiting the community of Kaikungu, the CWS assessment team saw field after field of ploughed land laying desolate with occasional spurts of struggling maize plants protruding from the cracked earth. Area Councillor Cosmas Kitumbi told Church World Service that in his ward of some 5,600 people, eighty-five percent are facing starvation.

The village elders said the region’s historically depended-on November “long rains” were infrequent and erratic last year, and no rain fell at all in December 2008. The short rain season of March through May could bring some relief, but expectations aren’t high.

“I have never seen a situation like this before in all of my seventy years,” Kaikungu elder Jones M.A. Ndumu said, slowly shaking his head. The CWS team found the situation in all districts surveyed “a world of desperation” and reports that the areas around Mwingi, Makueni and parts of Machakos are in critical danger.

In Kitui, a small town in Eastern Province, the team saw scant dozens of cattle and goats being brought to market, all appearing sick and emaciated, ribs protruding under dust-caked skin.

Prolonged droughts and unpredictable rainy seasons exaggerated by climate change, the effects of the world food crisis, trade and spiralling prices, as well as increased fertilizer prices, have combined to create an environment for hunger, starvation and continuing agricultural failure, without immediate, comprehensive and continued intervention. As well, last year’s election violence in Kenya resulted in burned farmlands and farmers too afraid of further violence to go out and plant.

Statistics from the Uasin Gishu agricultural district office show that the area there under maize cultivation fell by about 20,000 acres from last year as a result of displacement following the post-election attacks.

In addition to the famine prone regions of North Eastern, Turkana, upper and lower Eastern and Coastal regions, many families in the areas of Laikipia, Nandi, Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia and parts of Central Province are in urgent need of food, reports CWS Emergency Response Program Officer Sammy Matua.

Church World Service’s “Water for All” projects in Kenya have been providing communities with drought mitigation and sustainable, local clean water resources for several years. While assessing Eastern Province’s food crisis, the CWS team encountered a sand dam it helped construct in 2006.

The only remaining water source for the Ing’oini village of about 500 households, the sand dam is still holding water today despite the current drought.

CWS anticipates a later, longer-term appeal for funds to support construction of more sand dams in affected communities.

Local partners assisting the CWS Kenya team’s response include the National Council of Churches of Kenya, the Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Community Rural Initiative and the Anglican Church of Kenya.

Contributions to support the Kenya emergency appeal may be made online at: www.churchworldservice.org/donate ; by dollar cheque to Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515; or call toll free in the USA on (800) 297-1516.

The full Church World Service Kenya assessment report can be read here: http://www.churchworldservice.org/KenyaAssessment

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