Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Kenyans need action

How long will the worlds biggest, richest super power government stand back and watch? No oil in this region so will stand in our aggression toward nuclear powers yet silently do nothing as the weakest and poorest continue to suffer? Send light through intent. Send action. Send food. And certainly send prayers their way and do not turn away. Snap your finger. Pause. Snap it again. That's how often and quickly a child dies of starvation in this region. All day. Every day. Overwhelming? Certainly. But nothing we can do? Certainly not! SPeak up. Call your legislators. FOOD. That's what they need. F-O-O-D. It's that simple. It's that heartwrenching and embarrassing. WFP is going to run out of money. Do you think we have more? I do. I don't think. I KNOW. Do you know what the war in Iraq has cost us and is costing us every day?

WAJIR, Kenya - Malnourished children cried feebly in a hospital in this drought-stricken corner of Kenya, too weak to even make themselves heard as aid agencies warned Tuesday that they do not have money to feed millions of Kenyans hit by food shortages.

Kenya's government announced a day earlier that the number of Kenyans at risk from the food crisis has increased to 3.5 million from 2.5 million. The number of districts affected by drought is expected to rise to 37 from 17, just over half of Kenya's 70 districts.
At least 30 people, including 13 children, have died from the food shortage. At least five cattle herders have been killed in clashes over access to scarce pastures and water, according to the international charity ActionAid.
"These new figures show how bad this crisis is becoming," said Paul Smith-Lomas, regional director for the international aid agency, Oxfam. "The situation is worse than it has been for many years and the hardest months are still ahead of us."
The crisis hit as Kenya forecast a surplus harvest of 68,900 tons of maize. But surplus food in the west of Kenya is being exported instead of going to those suffering in other parts of the country.
Farmers in the west were waiting in lines for up to two weeks to sell surplus maize, the nation's staple food, to the national cereal and produce board.
President Mwai Kibaki's attempts to distribute food aid have been ineffective, according to Oxfam. In some places, it has simply been thrown off the back of trucks, the agency said.
Government spokesman Alfred Mutua declined to comment on the criticism.
The visiting British International Development Secretary Hilary Benn appealed for urgent action to save lives.
"We need to act very, very quickly to prevent what is already a problem from becoming a crisis," Benn said after visiting this northeastern district that is among the hardest hit by food shortages.
"It's been a slow start," Benn said. "The people in this area have lived with hardship most of the time and now it is turning into a crisis. The best way to be sure that food gets to the people who need it is through the World Food Program."
Aid agencies do not have money to buy food from districts with surplus harvests to feed those hit by the food shortages, said Peter Smerdon, spokesman for the World Food Program.
"WFP is short $44 million now to feed 1.1 million people because of the drought," Smerdon said. "Without new donations, WFP will run out of food to distribute in drought affected areas by the end of February."
"Our previous warnings and appeals have sadly received little response from the donors. What is a very limited window of opportunity to avert mass suffering in Kenya is closing very fast," he said. "We don't want Kenya to become another Niger, where in 2005 donations only increased when people started dying after months of appeals for contributions to prevent deaths."
Benn met Kibaki Tuesday and pledged $5.3 million to help alleviate the crisis, according to a statement released by the president's office.
One-third of the money will go to dealing with food shortages and the remaining two-thirds will go to providing water in drought-stricken areas, the statement said.
In the Wajir District Hospital's pediatric ward, 12 of the 19 patients were children in urgent need of nutritional assistance. Doctors handed bags full of dextrose solution to feed the children intravenously.
Dr. Wahame Karanja said that in October there were no child deaths due to malnutrition at the hospital, but two children died in November, four died in December and three had died by Jan. 15.
Some 70 percent of Wajir's population live below the poverty line and depend on cattle and goats for survival. They only have enough food aid to help roughly a third of the population.
Most of the grazing land in the semi-arid district has been consumed down to the dirt. Tens of thousands of emaciated livestock stumble through the scrub brush searching for food, their owners watching helplessly.
Hundreds of nomadic families who have seen more than 90 percent of their livestock die during the drought have began converging on Wajir, setting up settlements in the hope that aid will be brought to them.
"The (emergency) response has never taken so long and the rate of malnutrition has never gone up so fast," said Nuria Ibrahim Abdi, who has worked as a nutritionist for the last 11 years in the district hospital and assisted patients during the droughts in 1998 and 2000.

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