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NAIROBI – The United Nations World Food Programme warned today that despite a good start to the long rains falling in the epicentre of the regional drought, millions of nomadic herders and subsistence farmers in Kenya remained in desperate need of sustained assistance until they can rebuild their lives.

“Ironically, these rains bring little respite. While they have alleviated the immediate need for water, there is increased risk of people falling sick from drinking contaminated water, while livestock deaths have continued because the animals are too weak and vulnerable to diseases such as pneumonia when temperatures drop at night,” said Tesema Negash, WFP Kenya Country Director.

“Even normal rains won’t bring dead livestock back to life in the north or provide an immediate harvest in the east. There is no quick fix to this emergency after five consecutive poor seasons,” Negash added.

Those people who have lost everything will need food and other assistance well into 2007 and beyond.
Even if the long rains - which should last until June – are normal after years of poor rains and drought in Kenya, and even if normal short rains follow (from October to December), it will take years to rebuild the livelihoods of the nomadic herders who have lost all their livestock and subsistence farmers who are now destitute.

“The most vulnerable families are those who have seen all their livestock perish or are unable to plant for the next harvest because they have no money left for seeds or fertilizer. And with the rains and flooding in some areas, getting food aid to these people only becomes harder and slower because the poor sand roads become impassable in places for trucks,” Negash added.

Some transporters are refusing to load WFP food until roads open up. Such delays and the possibility that roads may remain closed over long periods will affect how many people can be fed in April. For instance, WFP currently has no food stocks for this month’s distributions in the worst-affected Mandera and Wajir districts in northeastern Kenya.

A total of 2.9 million people received more than 28,000 metric tons of WFP food in the last four weeks through emergency general food distributions in the north and east of Kenya because of the drought.

In the next four weeks, WFP aims to increase the number receiving food to over 3 million people in addition to 500,000 children who will receive WFP meals at their schools in the hardest-hit areas. But WFP has a shortfall of 54 percent or US$123 million on the US$225 million needed to feed up to 3.5 million through to February 2007.

In March and April, WFP was forced to drop vegetable oil entirely from its rations and drastically cut the amount of nutritious corn-soya blend provided in the food basket in Kenya because of a lack of cash and late arrival of in-kind food contributions. For the same reasons, no pulses will be provided in April.

WFP has steadily increased the numbers it is feeding each month, especially in the worst-affected areas in the northeast, and with its partners is registering new arrivals in need of food and other assistance.

“Our donors have helped many people live through this drought, but it would be a cruel escape, if those who lost the most only suffer more in the months ahead because contributions dry up,” Negash said. “We must stay the course, and help these people recover rather than abandon them because of the rains.”

Since January, the following countries have contributed to WFP’s emergency operation in Kenya: United States (US$46 million), United Kingdom (US$19 million), Kenya (US$13 million), European Commission (US$6 million), Canada (US$4.4 million), United Nations (US$3.6 million), Sweden (US$3.1 million), Australia (US$1.4 million), Ireland (US$1.4 million), Denmark (US$1.3 million), Finland (US$846,000), Italy (US$606,000), Belgium (US$605,000), Switzerland (US$378,000), Luxembourg (US$296,000), New Zealand (US$274,000), Turkey (US$200,000), American Jewish Council (US$22,000), Israel (US$17,000).