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NAIROBI – The Government of Kenya and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today announced that 3.5 million Kenyans are running out of food because of the complete failure of the short rains, nearly tripling the number Kenyans in need of emergency food assistance.

According to a comprehensive Short-Rains Food Security Assessment in January –
coordinated by the Kenya Food Security Steering Group made up of the Government of Kenya, WFP, FAO and other UN and non-governmental agencies – 395,000 metric tons of food aid will be required.

“Our detailed assessment found that the worst affected regions are the pastoral areas covering the northern districts of the Rift Valley and Eastern provinces, the entire North Eastern Province and parts of the Coast. These areas depend on livestock production for income and food. Malnutrition rates among children are alarmingly high and the areas have already seen large numbers of livestock deaths,” said John Munyes, Kenya’s Minister of State, Office of the President, Special Programmes.

The January assessment found that the short rains completely failed over large areas of eastern and northern Kenya, adversely impacting the lives of pastoralists and farmers in 25 districts.

“Many Kenyans – facing a fifth consecutive season of failed or poor rains -- are already living on the edge and unless donors respond immediately, we fear for the worst. The rains have failed, and to save lives in the coming weeks and months ahead, it is essential that both cash and in-kind contributions of food are made today to assist with WFP’s and the Government’s emergency response. Without fresh pledges, WFP will not be able to meet March needs,” said WFP Country Director Tesema Negash.

With thousands of livestock dying, and with that number expected to continue to dramatically increase as the drought intensifies, an increasing number of pastoralists are not able to provide for themselves. According to the short rains food security assessment report, rates of global acute malnutrition among children under five have risen steeply in the northeast of the country to between 18 and 30 percent. This is particularly worrying because 15 percent is considered an emergency level.

Farmers in eastern Kenya who depend on the short rains for their main harvest are also in desperate need of assistance. As a result of the lack of rainfall, their crops have failed. Successive seasons of poor rain mean they have little food stocks to tap.

The drought emergency operation was initially launched in July 2004 for six months after poor long rains in eastern, southern and parts of northern Kenya left 2.3 million people in need of assistance. With the partial failure of the 2004 short rains from October to December and the 2005 long rains from March to June, the operation has twice been extended to reflect the evolving nature of the situation, first for 2 million people from March to August 2005, and then 1.2 million from August 2005 to Feb 2006.

In December, WFP issued an urgent appeal to donors once it was clear that the rains had failed and there was an impending aggravation of the crisis.

“Working through the already existing targeting and distribution mechanisms, we can ensure that food aid reaches those in need at the right time and in the right quantities,” said Munyes. “Last week, the Government of Kenya pledged 60,000 metric tons of maize, worth US$15 million to the operation and we hope the international community will now follow suit and respond to this urgent appeal.”

In addition to general food distributions for the three million Kenyans identified in 25 districts as currently in need of assistance, WFP will expand its school feeding programme to reach a total of 500,000 primary school children affected by drought. This is in addition to the 1.1 million the agency regularly reaches through its joint Government of Kenya school feeding programme. Within the three million targeted beneficiaries, WFP will provide additional support to some 381,000 pregnant and lactating mothers and children under five through a supplementary feeding programme, in close collaboration with UNICEF and other specialized agencies.

WFP will urgently need fresh donations, particularly cash, to cover the associated costs of moving food contributions by the Government of Kenya or allow local purchases of food aid in Western Kenya which has not been affected by drought. Without fresh pledges, WFP will not be able to meet next month's food aid needs.

“Since 1999, 2003 was the only year when the country did not face a humanitarian crisis because of drought. With the prospects of another poor rainy season from March to June, we fear the situation will only deteriorate and the suffering, continue,” said Negash. “Families have lost their coping strategies and many Kenyans, whether they rely on livestock or marginal farming, have completely lost their livelihoods.”

Since WFP’s September appeal to donors, which was reiterated in December, the following countries have confirmed contributions: Kenya (US$17 million), United States (US$15 million), Canada (US$ 1.3 million), Sweden (US1.3 million), UK Department for International Development (US$1.3 million), and Luxembourg (US$295,858).