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July/August 2011
Vol. 36, No. 4

Kenya: Drought, high prices lead to malnutrition

The following article is reprinted from the June 16 issue Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), an editorially independent, non-profit project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Kenya drought Successive poor rains coupled with rising food and fuel prices are leading to a worsening food security situation with alarming levels of acute malnutrition being recorded in drought affected parts of Kenya, mainly in the north of the country, say experts.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2011 is the driest period in the eastern Horn of Africa since 1995 "with no likelihood of improvement until early 2012."

"From the nutrition point of view, it is possibly the worst we have seen in the last 20 years," Noreen Prendiville, at the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Kenya office, told IRIN, noting that increased global acute malnutrition rates of over 35 percent are being seen in some drought-affected areas.

"In less serious situations, one would hear so many requests for assistance with livestock or water, but just now, the number one request is food and the need is substantial and urgent."

While past droughts have been longer, such as the 2008-09 one, "the current drought is severe, and its impacts have been exacerbated by extremely high food prices, reduced coping capacity, and a limited humanitarian response," said the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET).

The predominantly northern pastoral region is often the scene of resource-based clashes leading to the displacement of some communities. In May alone in Turkana, 16 armed livestock raids took place with thousands of heads of livestock stolen, according to data compiled by the UN.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), two consecutive below-average rainfall seasons have resulted in failed harvests, depletion of grazing resources and significant livestock mortality in the Horn of Africa region. [In a recent statement, the FAO said that Kenya's] food security situation is expected to further deteriorate as milk production in the drought-affected areas has collapsed and will not recover until October when the short rains are expected to start.

In the northeastern Garissa region, food scarcity has led to an increase in the number of people relying on food aid … almost 40 percent of the county's population. …

Food prices have shot up in Garissa, like elsewhere, with a kilogram of meat selling at about 400 shillings (US$4.70) compared to 250-300 ($3-$3.50) in 2010. The price of a liter of milk has also almost tripled to 80 shillings (US$0.95) over a similar period, Garissa trader Hassan Ali Ibrahim, told IRIN.

According to FAO, wholesale maize prices in Kenya in May in the main urban markets of Nairobi and Mombasa were 60-85 percent above the levels of May 2010.

The food security of an estimated 2.4 million people is likely to decline after June in most northern pastoral and the southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural areas, said FEWSNET, which further warned that food security could decline to emergency levels among pastoralists.

At present, UNICEF and partners are scaling up nutrition and health outreach and clinic services in the affected areas to deal with the high number of malnourished children needing therapeutic and supplementary feeding, but few human and health resources and the long distances to affected regions are making this response very difficult.

The government also announced, on June 14, a doubling of the monthly allocation of famine relief food (maize, beans and rice) to affected areas, but with drought being a cyclic event in the Horn of Africa region, experts are calling for longer-term approaches to mitigation.

According to FAO's regional emergency coordinator for Eastern and Central Africa, Rod Charters, "the challenge ahead is to empower farmers and pastoralists to adapt to the new realities of high variability of weather patterns and more frequent extreme weather events."

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