Kenya fears famine after long drought
Nairobi - Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans are severely short of food because of a long drought and at least five have starved to death, government officials said on Friday.
The government has declared a state of "alarm" in 18 districts after two consecutive rainy seasons failed.
The worst affected were pastoralist communities along the shore of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya near the Sudan border.
Local officials say 40 percent of the population face starvation if rains due in the next month also fail.
Shariff Nassir, minister of state in charge of relief operations, said the government had already set aside 300 million shillings (R24-million) to purchase extra food and would distribute the 258 000 bags of maize it has in store.
"At the moment, we are able to buy the food in Kenya, but if anything goes wrong we may need to import and look for assistance from out international partners," Nassir said.
But the member of parliament for Turkana, John Munyes, said this week the government was failing to meet the needs of some 60 000 people in his constituency who had left their homes in search of food and water and had received just 4 000 bags of relief maize.
The corruption that pervades all areas of Kenyan life has already affected the distribution of emergency food supplies. Several local government officials were under investigation on suspicion of misappropriating food, Nassir said.
In its recent history Kenya has never suffered famine on the scale experienced by its conflict-torn neighbours Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia.
But hundreds died and thousands of head of livestock were lost in a severe drought in 1992/93, the worst for 50 years. The same drought killed an estimated 300 000 people in Somalia while a civil war raged there.
"Our early warning systems are in place and we believe we have the resources and the infrastructure to avert a major tragedy," said Mahboub Malim, deputy co-ordinator of the government's Arid Lands Resource Management Project.