UN AGENCY HEADS URGE PRESIDENT KIBAKI TO PREPARE FOR WORSENING DROUGHT AND PLEDGE CONTINUING SUPPORT FOR DROUGHT AFFECTED CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
Nairobi 2 March 2006 The Executive Directors of the World Food Programme and UNICEF, James T. Morris and Ann M. Veneman, will meet Kenya President Mwai Kibaki today to urge an even stronger focus on the catastrophic impact of the deepening drought.
The two UN agency heads have just concluded a tour of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi where they have been promoting greater cooperation to reduce poverty, increase access to food and improve education for the most vulnerable children, along with the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
In Kenya, drought resulting from consecutive seasons of failed rains including the 2005 Short Rains (October-December), is affecting 25 districts. Some 3.5 million people, including 500,000 school children, require food assistance in 2006.
Up to 60,000 children and women are malnourished. Over 4.5 million people are affected by water shortages. In North Eastern Province all surface water sources – which usually meet the needs of 80 percent of the population – have dried up. Thousands of animals have died and more will follow. Pastoralist families who have lost their livestock will be destitute, without any means to feed or support themselves.
“We are still far short of the food required to meet the needs of the millions of people at risk due to the drought,” said WFP’s Executive Director James Morris. “And with forecasters suggesting that the April rains will also be poor, the number of families needing assistance could grow in the coming months. Without adequate emergency food aid, we fear for the worst.”
More than US$233 million is needed to help the government meet food shortages to the end of the year, and over US$11.7 million is required to support emergency health, nutrition and water services, and to keep schools open. Both agency heads urged government, donors, the private sector and the public to meet the shortfall, and to work together to ensure a speedy, effective response especially if the April rains fail.
“We must be prepared for a worsening drought,” said UNICEF’s Veneman. “Children are especially vulnerable to malnutrition and disease – and the burden on already over-stretched health, nutrition and water services will be even greater.”
The agency heads praised major government contributions to the drought response so far this year. More than US$13.7 million worth of Kenya Government food stocks have been donated to WFP for the emergency operation, along with about US$7 million to emergency water supply, US$1.7 million for emergency education support and US$380,000 for health and nutrition. International donors including Australia, Austria, Belgium, ECHO, Finland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the UK Department for International Development and the United States have collectively contributed over US$34.9 million to WFP and Unicef operations.
In the meeting with the President, the agency heads will discuss the support their two agencies are providing to the Government of Kenya to address the large scale humanitarian crisis caused by drought. Both agencies help the Office of the President manage emergency response, with WFP focusing on the massive emergency food relief operation and UNICEF on health and nutrition, water and sanitation and education. WFP also organizes food security assessments and supplies and distributes food aid to millions of people in need. UNICEF supports nutrition surveys, supplementary feeding and treatment for malnourished children, emergency health support including immunization and Vitamin A supplementation, and helps to keep water pumps operating through provision of spare parts.
Keeping schools open during the emergency is a key goal of both agencies. While some schools have closed or have fewer students due mainly to water shortages, others are recording record numbers of students who have enrolled because of the WFP-Government of Kenya school feeding programme.
Working with the Ministry of Education, WFP provides food to 1.1 million poor, hungry children in 3,800 schools in 29 districts in the Arid and Semi Arid Lands and for about 70,000 children in six Nairobi slums. Meanwhile UNICEF supports the installation of safe water and sanitation facilities, and helps to improve the quality of education through creative, low-cost teacher training and the development of child-friendly classrooms.
“More and more children will come to school in an emergency like the one we have in Kenya in order to be fed. The school meal is often the only nutritious meal they receive in a day,” said Morris.
UNICEF helps to keep school water supplies running, trains teachers in psycho-social care for children traumatized by the drought and promotes low-cost boarding facilities so that children can stay in school if their parents need to migrate with their animals.
“Drought affected areas in Kenya traditionally have the lowest enrollment rates, especially for girls,” said Veneman. “We must continue the gains achieved towards fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals in education.”
During the meeting with President Kibaki, the Executive Directors for UNICEF and WFP will also discuss how cooperation between the two agencies and governments helps to make progress in reaching the Millennium Goals. “A leading example is the way both of our agencies work with the Ministry of Education in Kenya to increase access of children to schools, to improve education results and involve families in direct support for schools,” said Morris.
“Access to food, water, toilets and good teaching help to attract and keep children in school. School feeding reduces poverty by reducing the pressure on poor families to find additional food,” said Morris.
“And when children are not hungry and are actively engaged in learning, their results improve,” added Veneman. “Keeping girls in school, in particular, improves the household economy, improves family health and reduces the exploitation of girls and women.”
The agency heads will spend about 30 minutes with President Kibaki. Ann Veneman, who visited Kenya in July 2005, departs today while James Morris will remain in Kenya until Sunday, 5 March in order to see first hand the affects of drought and WFP’s emergency operation as well as some of the agency’s other activities. He will hold a press conference on Sunday, 5 March.