"This is a very serious and a big crisis, and if the world community does not wake up, then it would become a real catastrophe," Kjell Magne Bondevik, the new UN humanitarian envoy and a former Norwegian prime minister, said on Thursday.

"People are already starving and people are dying," he said while visiting an ancient Maasai grazing land that was littered with animal carcasses.
 
Bondevik toured the southern corner of Kenya to see for himself the impact of the drought that has hit eastern, central and the Horn of Africa.

Only a tiny fraction of aid needed to help the people hit by food shortages has been received, although the crisis is worsening, the international charity Oxfam said on Thursday.

Grim situation

The crisis is so bad in some parts of northern Kenya that families are being forced to eat insects, wild berries and squirrels to stay alive, according to Oxfam.

Donors, however, have committed only $18.7 million, or 8% of the $225 million being sought by Kenya's government, Oxfam said.

Neighbouring Somalia is facing a $144 million shortfall to help feed and provide medicine and water to the hungry. Ethiopia needs another $38 million to meet the needs, Oxfam said.

Kajiado is not the worst affected district in Kenya, but even then, 70% of its 532,000 people have been hit by the drought, George Otieno, the officer in charge of the emergency response to the drought in the area, said during Bondevik's visit.

The area has had poor rains for three consecutive years, leading to a total crop failure.

Some 80% of the 453,000 cattle have migrated to Kenya's capital of Nairobi, to neighbouring Tanzania and other areas in search of water and pastures, Otieno said.

Children have been pulled out of schools in the course of desperate search for water and pastures for cattle that Maasai see as a sign of wealth and prestige, he said.

The drought has already killed 40% of cattle, 20% of sheep and 25% of goats in the area, Otieno said.

Residents criticise the government for failing to come up with programmes to manage the frequent droughts in the country.