East African children survive on a meal a day

Women and children in arid north-eastern Kenya are begging along roadsides for water and food from motorists, the United Nations’s World Food Programme said on Friday as it appealed to donors to help about five million people affected by drought across East Africa.

Governments and international agencies have tried to draw attention to the worsening impact of drought in the region.

Preliminary assessments show those affected include an estimated 2,5-million in Kenya, 1,4-million in Somalia, 1,5-million in Ethiopia and 60 000 in Djibouti, according to the UN food aid agency.

The health of children getting just one meal a day is deteriorating. The livestock on which many families depend for food are dying in large numbers from exhaustion and lack of water and food.

“While final figures on the number of people in need of urgent assistance are still being established, donors must respond now if we are going to avert a humanitarian catastrophe,” Holdbrook Arthur, WFP regional director for East and Central Africa, said in a statement.

“Pastoralists living in these arid, remote lands have very few survival strategies left and desperately require our assistance to make it through until the next rains,” Arthur said on Friday in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

On Thursday, the head of the UN environment agency linked the impact of the drought to environmental damage to forests, grasslands, wetlands and other critical ecosystems as well as global climate change.

“Drought is no stranger to the peoples of East Africa. It is a natural climatic phenomenon.
What has dramatically changed in recent decades is the ability of nature to supply essential services like water and moisture during hard times,” Klaus Toepfer said, according to a statement from the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme. “This is because so much of nature’s water and rain-supplying services have been damaged, destroyed or cleared.”

There are indications that the number of people in need in Kenya could rise as the year progresses, the WFP’s Arthur said.

“This is of grave concern, especially as WFP’s current emergency operation is inadequately funded, and without additional contributions, we could be forced to halt our much-needed food assistance in February,” Arthur said.

Somalia is headed for the worst cereal harvest in a decade and cattle herders in the south are forced to concentrate along rivers and in the few remaining green pastures.

The WFP plans to feed one million people in Somalia until June this year, while the aid agency Care will assist another 400 000. However, UN food stocks are already low and it needs an additional 53 000 tonnes at a cost of about $46-million to provide much-needed food to the most vulnerable, according to the statement.

Piracy has complicated the WFP’s efforts to help. In 2005, two ships carrying relief food were hijacked of the coast of Somalia, which has had no effective central government since 1991, when warlords ousted a dictatorship and then turned on each other.

In Djibouti, the food aid agency currently assists more than 47 000 cattle herders. With the worsening drought in this smallest of the Horn of Africa countries, it is feared that this number will increase in the coming months to more than 60 000 people.

In Ethiopia, initial findings of an assessment of the main rain season show that about 1,5-million cattle herders in the southern Somali region and perhaps an estimated 250 000 in the Borena zone of the Oromiya region will require food assistance from January to June this year.—Sapa-AP

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