The Heat Is Online

East Africa Parched by Worst Drought in 60 Years

East Africa Reels Under Worst Drought in Memory

NAIROBI, Kenya, April 11, 2001 (ENS) - The worst drought in East Africa in living memory has created a desperate situation for millions of people, particularly in Kenya. Aid agencies are warning that food shortages in the country are critical, and emergency supplies could run out next month.

In a joint statement issued today, 42 humanitarian and development agencies said that after years of drought, more than four million vulnerable people are still facing starvation, "yet the international community is not responding adequately to appeals for food."

"Despite rain in some areas, the needs are still immense," said Emma Naylor, the humanitarian program coordinator for Oxfam, Great Britain.

"This has been the worst drought that Kenya has faced in living memory. Assessments show that as many as 4.4 million people will require food aid in Kenya until the end of the year. News that food will run out by May is disastrous."

Government plans to clear over 10 percent of Kenya's forest to resettle landless people pose a serious threat to water resources, Kenyan environmental groups are warning. Much of the country's irrigation, 90 percent of its domestic water supply and 70 percent of hydroelectric power depend on the water catchment areas that will be affected by the deforestation.

In recent months, parts of Kenya seem to have been recovering from the devastating drought, but food shortages in the north and east are still causing serious problems. "Assessments show that even if the current rainy season is good, food will be required until the end of the year," the groups said.

Of particular concern is the lack of oil and beans, in addition to a shortage of special supplementary food for children. Surveys in parts of northern Kenya show that malnutrition among children is still unacceptably high. "It is desperately sad to think that despite all the progress that has been made and all the lives that have been saved, we are facing a return to widespread suffering," said Alloys Omolo of the aid organization CARE.

"Donors should realize that if they don't support this appeal, the positive impact of their earlier response will be wasted," Omolo said.

Over the past 10 years, Kenya has been hit by a series of natural disasters. The present drought, which began in 1999, has been the worst in the last 60 years. Small scale subsistence farmers and pastoralists who depend on rain for their livelihoods have been reduced to a state of destitution and dependence on food aid.

Shariff Nassir, Kenya's Minister of State in charge of Relief and Rehabilitation is appealing to the world community for aid in the amount of US$17 million to help the drought affected farmers and pastoralists resume agricultural activities, become self sufficient in food production and build up capacity for drought resistance.

Other countries in eastern Africa hard hit by drought include Ethiopia and Eritrea, Somali, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.