Relief agencies to assess food situation next week

The government is to lead relief agencies around the country next week to assess the impact of last year's poor rains and reports of widespread food shortages in several districts, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday.

Anja du Toit, the WFP spokeswoman, told IRIN that the UN agency would determine the exact number of people in need of food assistance in the country once the assessment mission had completed its work.

"There will be pockets of people that will be assisted through the food-for-assets programme," du Toit added. The food-assets programme involves those being assisted in development-related activities.

Another assessment team, led by the UN Children's Fund, would go out in February to assess malnutrition levels in the country, she said.

The latest Kenya vulnerability update, published by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-NET) on Friday, attributed the deteriorating food security in the country to successive poor rainy seasons and the poor 2002-2003 short rains season. It said the January 2004 rains had come "too late", providing only a "measured" relief to agricultural households in the key agricultural regions of the eastern and central Kenya provinces.

According to FEWS-NET, the Kenya National Cereals and Produce Board, which maintains stocks for the government famine-relief programme and the strategic grain reserves, has 63,000 mt of maize against a requirement of 270,000 mt.

Projected output of beans, it added, was down to 50 percent of normal, although close to 90 percent of projected hectarage had been planted.

"The January rains have resumed too late to have any meaningful impact on most of the crop production in the coastal districts and parts of the principal short rains marginal agricultural districts of Eastern Province," the report noted.

"Despite the January rainfall, cumulative rainfall for the 2003-04 short rains reason has been below normal in most parts of Eastern, Coast and Central provinces, as well as in the agro-pastoral areas of the southern and southwestern Rift Valley Province," it added.

The districts facing severe food and water shortages include Marsabit, Turkana, Kajiado, Baringo, Moyale, Narok, Bomet and Laikipia, according to the report. The food security situation had been worsened by the decline in livestock production in the pastoral areas, where communities depend on their domestic animals for food, milk and income.

In most of these arid districts, it added, water had become increasingly scarce, thereby increasing livestock daily trekking distances by more than 40 km in some areas.

"Because livestock are the source of food and income for many of these pastoral households, the food security situation is increasingly precarious in these districts," the report said.

FEWS-NET, however, noted that some eastern pastoral districts had received good rains. "Unusually, several of the eastern pastoral districts, including Garissa, Wajir and parts of Tana River and Isiolo, have had fairly good short rains," it said.