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Drought leaves two million Kenyans in need of food aid

NAIROBI - The United Nations World Food Programme said today that two million Kenyans - particularly in the arid and semi-arid lands in the northern and eastern parts of the country - would need food assistance until August, despite a general improvement in weather conditions.

Between May and August, WFP plans to provide 83,000 metric tons of food aid to 1.6 million drought-affected people, plus an additional 420,000 school children. But WFP is still short of 52,000 metric tons, worth US$ 28 million - this represents a shortfall of almost 63 percent of the food required.

"The debilitating impact of a prolonged dry spell, compounded by chronic poverty, means that in many regions thousands of families are too poor to have enough to eat," said Tesema Negash, WFP Country Director for Kenya. "In others parts of the country - such as eastern Kenya - the rains failed once again, worsening food shortages.

"The November/December rainy season was very mixed across the country. In some areas it rained more than normal, so the crops were good and the livestock is recovering from the drought. In others, the rains were either worse than the previous season or came at the wrong time," said Negash.

The current food crisis is particularly acute in Kajiado district. The cumulative effect of the total failure of the rains in 2004, and two poor rainy seasons in 2003, is now life threatening.

Livestock died, calves are being killed to preserve the cows and milk production is almost nil, harming both people's diet and purchasing power. Most of the rain-fed crops such as maize and beans, failed. Meanwhile, health centres report an increase in malnutrition - 30 percent of the children seeking medical assistance are underweight compared to six percent in regular years.

"In Kajiado, the situation has clearly worsened; the number of people in need of food aid has tripled," said Negash. "Fortunately, there are also areas which have seen a clear recovery with good agricultural production and pasture, and where food aid is no longer necessary. We must therefore concentrate on regions suffering persistent drought."

Rain failure at crucial growing times has severely affected production, particularly of maize, the country's staple food. Maize prices in key markets around the country are a prohibitive 20 to 70 percent above normal. For many Kenyans such a dramatic price rise spells hunger.

WFP will provide various levels of assistance according to needs. An average of one million people worst hit by the drought will receive general food rations. Another 600,000 in areas which have been less severely affected, food aid will be distributed through a combination of food-for-work projects for the rebuilding of infrastructure such as water development and environmental protection, or through assistance targeted at the most vulnerable elements of the community.

WFP is also extending its school feeding programme - which normally provides a nutritious daily meal to one million school children in Kenya - to an additional 420,000 pre-primary and primary pupils in drought-affected regions. This ensures that children have an adequate diet while reducing the family burden of finding food for their youngsters. It also ensures that parents avoid taking their children out of school to help find food.

Since the beginning of the emergency operation to assist drought stricken Kenyans in August 2004, the Government of Kenya has donated 65,000 tons of maize making it one of the main contributors to the operation; other donors include the United States (US$32.4 million), UK (US$5.4 million), Netherlands (US$2.2 million), Japan (US$1.8 million), Canada (US$1.1 million), Norway (US$590,000) and Finland (US$259,403).

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency; each year, WFP provides food aid to an average of 90 million people, including 56 million hungry children, in more than 80 countries.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign - For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school - a gift of hope for a brighter future.

Visit our website: www.wfp.org

For more information please contact (email address: firstname.lastname@wfp.org):

Laura Melo
WFP/Nairobi
Tel: +254 20 622336
Mob: +254 733 518085

Peter Smerdon
WFP/Nairobi
Tel. +254 20 622 179
Mob. +254 733 528 911

Brenda Barton
Deputy Director Communications
WFP/Rome
Tel. +39-06-65132602

Gregory Barrow
WFP/London
Tel. +44-20-75929292
Mob. +44-7968-008474

Christiane Berthiaume
WFP/Geneva
Tel. +41-22-9178564
Mob. +41-79-2857304

Trevor Rowe
WFP/NY
Tel. +1-212-9635196
Mob. +1-646-8241112
rowe@un.org