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Raila: Food and water crisis severe

Wednesday July 22 2009

A man scavenges on a carcass at Acher's Post in Samburu on June 11, 2009. Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga says the water and food situation is set to get worse. PHOTO/ JOSEPH KANYI

A man scavenges on a carcass at Acher's Post in Samburu on June 11, 2009. Recent spate of cattle rustling is being blamed on severe drought in the area. PHOTO/ JOSEPH KANYI  

By PETER LEFTIE

Kenya is facing a severe shortage of food and water with more than 10 million people requiring urgent assistance.

Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Wednesday told Parliament that only 20 million bags of maize, Kenya’s staple food, would be harvested this year, against an annual consumption of 33 million bags.

Mr Odinga told MPs that the severity of the food situation will be fully felt starting the end of next week, even though many families across the country were already starving.

Demoralized farmers

Delivering his weekly address to Parliament, the Prime Minister blamed the severe shortage on failed rains, which he said had demoralized farmers so much so that only 1.2 million hectares was under cultivation instead of the usual 1.4 million.

Describing the food, water and energy situation in the country as “worrying” and forecasts as “grim”, the PM warned that 1.2 million school-going children who depend on the school feeding programme were also in danger of starving due to the food crisis.

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“In some places, schools have the money but there is no food to buy,” the PM lamented.

Mr Odinga gave a gloomy forecast of the expected food harvest in the country, with virtually all the food producing regions registering a shortfall.

Rift Valley, the country’s food basket, may harvest only 13.5 million bags compared to the 20 million bags it normally produces.

The PM warned of a “catastrophe” if the short rains expected between October and November also failed.

He named Nairobi, the Athi, the Tana, Ewaso Ngiro North, greater Baringo, Nakuru, Turkana, West Pokot, Keiyo, Marakwet, Narok, Nyandarua, Kajiado, Machakos, Makueni, Taita Taveta, Kwale, Mwingi, Kitui, Laikipia, parts of Nyeri, North Eastern Province, Upper Eastern and Kilifi as already experiencing an acute water shortage.

He said the scenario posed serious problems to the country’s economy and security, with upto 130,000 livestock already dead.

Livestock are competing for pasture with wild animals, posing a potential full scale wildlife-human conflict and massive environmental degradation.

“Pastoralists are crossing into neighbouring countries like Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda in search of pastures and water. This will interfere with the upcoming national population census,” he added.

Responding to questions from MPs Danson Mungatana (Garsen), Mohammed Affey (Nominated) and Fahim Twaha (Lamu East), Mr Odinga denied that the government was paying lip-service to Agriculture, disclosing that he and President Kibaki would next week launch the 40,000 hectare Bura Irrigation scheme in Coast Province at a cost of Sh2 billion.

Revive schemes
“The money has already been budgeted for in this year’s budget, we also hope to revive other irrigation schemes,” the PM told the House.

Mr Odinga further disclosed that the government had secured duty waiver on maize imports and also had adequate plans for distribution of seeds and fertilizers to ensure farmers have the right farm inputs for any rains.

To address the biting water shortage facing the country, Mr Odinga said the Water ministry had embarked on drilling boreholes across the country.

He said that the government had bought water tankers and leased private ones to supply water to some regions.

Mr Odinga also noted that the ministry was reviving eight water schemes near Nairobi to ease the pressure on water resources in the city.