Facing hunger in Kenya's Kajiado

Millions face starvation as drought continues to affect sub-Saharan Africa.

    Many women in Kajiado must travel long distances to find food and water [Tom Otieno]

    Penina Laloi sings a lullaby as she tries to calm her five-year-old son who has been crying uncontrollably.

    Soon, she herself breaks down as she explains that her family has not had any food to eat in almost three days.

    Laloi and her three children have been surviving on the remnants of two packets of maize flour that well-wishers "from the city" donated when they visited her remote village in the Kajiado district, south west of the capital Nairobi.
    It has been two weeks since and all she can do is wait for food relief from the Kenyan government which she says is rumoured to arrive at any time.

    "Even before we got the two packets of maize flour things were already getting out of control. We had already started eating wild fruits, dipped in cooked blood," Laloi told Al Jazeera.

    "Now that our flour is gone, the only thing left for us is to eat the wild fruits until someone else or the government comes to help us."

    Millions facing starvation

    According to the government and aid agencies, nearly 10 million Kenyans are facing starvation due to a drought which has severely affected the country's east, south and coastal provinces.

    Women and young children often have to walk as far as 15km in search of water and food while the strong and the young men have migrated to urban centres in search of casual jobs.

    Like many other women in her village, Laloi has remained at home while her husband and older children took the healthier cattle in search of grazing pastures in Tanzania.

    She considers herself luckier than most since she has still has three goats which she draws blood from to feed her children.

    "I don't know how long the goats will survive. They are also too weak. They were left when my husband went to Tanzania because they were weak to begin with."

    National disaster

    The current food crisis in the country has been blamed on crop failure due to drought, the global financial crisis and last year's post-election violence.

    Mwai Kibaki, the Kenyan president, declared famine a national disaster in January and said the country required $460mln to ensure food security before the next harvest in late September.

    He said the Kenyan government could provide only $64mln and called on the international community to donate the rest.

    Gabrielle Menezes, the public information officer for the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) in Nairobi, says the current shortages may be just the beginning of a worsening food crisis in the country.

    "As the government acknowledges, 10 million people are in need of food assistance. But the situation is expected to get even worse between May and June," she said.

    She said that the government maize reserve for the 2008-2009 season is 15 per cent below average, an all-time low.

    Maizemeal is the main staple for millions of Kenyans.

    The WFP, which currently feeds approximately 1.2 million people, says it may expand its operations to begin providing food aid to a total of 3.5 million Kenyans.

    "A lot will depend on the next harvest – which is now hard to predict," she says.

    No longer affordable

    Rising food prices have forced millions in Kenya to resort to food aid [GETTY]

    Rising food prices have contributed to the shortage of cereals, such as maizemeal, which were once considered affordable food alternatives for many Kenyans.

    In March, maize prices jumped to a price bracket which is 120 per cent higher than the long-term average for this time of year despite the government's push to import supplies from neighbouring countries.

    To make matters worse, Kenyan media have reported about an alleged scheme to illegally sell imported maize to Sudan.

    Maize in Sudan is sold at four times the price in local Kenyan markets.

    Inflation, and high fuel and fertiliser prices, have also prevented farmers from producing bigger harvests, only compounding an already stressed situation.

    Official figures also indicate that the Strategic Grain Reserve is at 72,000 tonnes - less than 15 per cent of the statutory requirement.

    Short rains have fallen in some parts of Kenya in recent weeks, but these have led to flash floods in low-lying areas where the drought has already destroyed the crop cover.

    Falling too little and too late, the rains have provided little relief to thousands who survive on subsistence farming, or as in Laloi's case, on their livestock.

    In the meantime, she says she will wait for urgent relief from the government, but continues to pray that her three goats will not die.

    "Most of the other animals in the village have died or already been slaughtered for meat," she said.

    "Now we are in the hands of God."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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