Monday, August 4, 2008

Thousands in 10 districts stare hunger in the face

Calves left at Lokui village in Turkana South District, on Sunday after cows were stolen by raiders from a neighbouring community last Wednesday. The raiders killed 44 people, and injured 15 others who were pursuing them at Napeitom during the attack in an area whose problems have been compounded by an onset of famine. Photo/ JARED NYATAYA 

By NOAH CHEPLOEN and KIBIWOTT KOROSS

Residents of Baringo East, Samburu and at least eight other neighbouring districts have no food.

But the government says action has been taken to ensure no one dies of hunger in the affected districts, even as reports indicate several people have already perished.

Special Programmes permanent secretary Ali Mohammed says Sh850 million has been spent on relief supplies in the districts that are mainly inhabited by pastoralists.

The PS says the Government has identified East Pokot, Turkana, Baringo North, Moyale, Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit and Samburu districts as the worst hit.

He said more action would be taken once the Government released an in-depth report on famine situation later this week.

The PS, Baringo East MP Asman Kamama and Red Cross chief Abbas Gullet spoke in East Pokot where seven trucks carrying 400 metric tones of foodstuff were flagged off for the district at the weekend.

And Sh15m has been spent to alleviate looming disaster in East Pokot alone, in the last three months, added Mr Mohammed

Mr Anthony Mwangi, Kenya Red Cross public relations officer said some 1,246 metric tons of food, including 20 tons of unimix and 25 tons of cooking fat has been delivered to Baringo East. Baringo Central and North will receive their rations next week, he said on Monday.

Mr Mwangi said the Red Cross was targeting 84,000 most affected families by the famine that has hit the region seven months. The areas are in the lowlands of Kimondis, Ewalel, Arabal and Mukutani in Baringo Central, he added.

Most parts of Baringo East, a survey by the charity organisation says, is ravaged by famine, with parts of Barwessa, Kipsereman and Bartabwa divisions of Baringo North also affected. “The situation is not good,” Mr Mwangi said. “These people need to help.” But this will only target vulnerable families, he said.

Baringo Central MP Sammy Mwaita said Monday that pupils and students had dropped out of school due to hunger, and described their plight as worrying.

“Absenteeism has increased alarmingly because most pupils do not get food at homes, those who attend school can’t concentration on studies due to hunger, the MP said.

He expressed fears that performance in the district might drop drastically this year, adding that 21,000 pupils in 78 primary schools removed from the expanded school feeding programme in September last year were the most affected, while eight secondary schools in the district were experiencing serious fees non-payment due to the drought.

The drought has also affected livestock prices, with a cow that was costing Sh10,000 three months ago now fetching only Sh2,000 while a goat selling at Sh1,000.

District commissioner

Baringo district commissioner Khamasi Shivogo said 5,000 families uprooted from their homes in Mukutani and Rugus locations by cattle rustlers from East Pokot, sought shelter in Kokwa Island, Logumgum and Kiserian and were in dire need of food.

“Unlike the political internal refugees these are people who were displaced by cattle rustlers and have undergone untold suffering since 2005,” said the DC.

In East Baringo, residents are eating wild fruits after their livestock, their main source of food, died. Some of the residents have driven their animals more than 200 kilometres northwards in such of pasture and water.

Only malnourished children, women and the elderly are left behind. Mr Sammy Lopuan, an elder, told the Nation that the area had not received any rainfall for eight months. Several of the malnourished children were given free treatment by a mobile clinic provided by the Red Cross in East Pokot.

According to Mr Lopuan, at least four people have died of hunger related complications at his village in Chemagit Location, Mondi Division.

“I have lost 20 head of cattle to the famine; it is the worst I have seen,” he said.

But the Government maintains that no one has died of hunger in the country and that food assessment report is due to be released next week.

The food supplied will serve at least 68,000 people in the district for the next couple of weeks. The district has a population of 80,000 people, and only three per cent of the area is fit for crop farming.

Mr Kamama thanked the Government for the swift response saying that the problem could have degenerated into a disaster and led to loss of lives had help been delayed for another two weeks.

But for Mama Sokoma Kiuwal, a mother of 10, the food ration will not last even a day. “I’m the father and mother of all these children. I have no one to turn to since I do not have a husband,” she said.

The Red Cross has been allocated two acres to establish an office in Kinyang, the district headquarters, as part of its search of a long term solution to the perennial food shortage in the area, DC Muthuku Mwenga said.

Agricultural officer

Baringo agricultural officer Dan Guda said the district would experience a shortfall of 250,000 bags of maize this season. “Out of 300,000 bags required, we may be able to produce only 50,000 bags following total rain failure during the planting season,’’ he said on Monday.

The area under cultivation reduced this season due to high farm inputs, and this has resulted into 60 per cent of the population needing support, said Mr Guda.

Baringo and East Pokot districts have experienced one of the worst droughts this year with people now eating wild fruits that is boiled for 12 hours.

Long term solutions include harvesting rain water by constructing dams, according to Mr Mwangi.

Mr Gullet said the political internal refugees had overshadowed the needs of the hunger stricken families. “The problem will not go away because it is both a political and economic problem . We need to address and ensure equity of national resources.” said Mr Gullet.

The problem is compounded by disease which has killed thousands of goats since last year, said Mr Kamama.

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